Panafrican News Agency

Prevention is ‘only cure’ to end sexual violence in conflict, Security Council hears

New York, US (PANA) - Prevention is the best and only cure to stem the multiple, devastating and enduring consequences faced by survivors of sexual violence in conflict, especially as a brutal tactic of war, a senior UN official told the Security Council on Wednesday.  

"We meet at a moment when this crime, which should have been consigned to a closed chapter of history, is once again in the headlines,” said Pramila Patten, Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, affirming that now was the time to “take stock of both the persistent and entrenched, as well as new and emerging, challenges…to eradicate the scourge”.

 A UN statement said the UN envoy highlighted the Tigray region of Ethiopia where women and girls are being subjected to sexual violence “with a level of cruelty beyond comprehension”, including gang-rape and other atrocities.  

And while the Council has adopted ground-breaking resolutions to combat sexual violence in the past, she wondered how the 15-member body was helping protect women on the ground in Tigray today. 

Citing over 2,500 UN-verified cases of conflict-related sexual violence in 18 countries last year alone, Ms. Patten said there was a “chasm between resolutions and reality”.  

“When history looks back on this painful episode – as part of the long litany of battles fought on the bodies of women and girls, from Bosnia, to Rwanda, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere – we will rightly be asked what we did to honour our commitments,” she said.  

The Special Representative also drew attention to the chronic underreporting of wartime sexual violence, due to “stigma, insecurity, fear of reprisals, and lack of services”, all of which have been compounded by COVID-19 containment measures.  

“Proactive measures…for survivors to safely come forward and seek redress have become more urgent than ever,” she stressed. 

The statement said while some survivors have broken their silence, many fear shame, isolation and rejection. 

Ms. Patten shared real-life stories of survivors, including a mother and daughter who fled a rebel attack on their village in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), only to be raped by government soldiers arriving to fight the rebels; and survivors of ISIL captivity who, due to a lack of social acceptance, were forced to abandon their children, born out of rape. 

“Each of these cases cries out for justice,”,she underscored. 

At a time when the Secretary-General has called for a global ceasefire to combat the pushback on women’s rights and shrinking civic space, COVID-19 has given rise to new gender-based protection concerns, the Special Representative said. 

Despite the UN system and others having pivoted to online support - such as hotlines and remote case management, for those hardest hit by the overlapping crises of conflict, displacement and COVID-19 - women on the wrong side of the digital divide, remain difficult to reach. 

“Marginalised women tend to be left further and further behind in times of crisis and social stress,” she told the Council. 

-0- PANA MA 15April2021