Marking the first International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today said that the era of impunity for sexual violence as a tool of war is over, citing a host of landmark rulings against political and military leaders.
In February, a national court in Guatemala convicted two former military officers of committing sexual violence during the country’s civil war – the first time that a national court anywhere in the world considered charges of sexual slavery during armed conflict.
Women’s organizations worked for years with indigenous women to develop their case, which was presented in the court by Guatemala’s female Attorney General before a female presiding judge.
In March, the International Criminal Court (ICC) handed down its first conviction for sexual and gender-based crimes.
An all-female panel of three judges presided over the case against former Congolese Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba, who was brought to justice by a female prosecutor, thanks to unprecedented levels of participation of women victims and witnesses from the Central African Republic.
In May, the Extraordinary African Chambers in Senegal convicted the former president of Chad, Hissène Habré, for war crimes and crimes against humanity, including rape and sexual slavery. This was the first universal jurisdiction case to make it to trial in Africa, and the first time a former Head of State was held personally accountable for committing rape as an international crime.
This conviction would not have been possible without the testimonies of women and the inspiring determination of lawyers, victims’ advocates, human rights defenders, and local and international civil society organizations.
All of these were long overdue and all had one thing in common: the unstoppable force of women’s voice and leadership, said UN Women, an agency tasked with promoting gender equality.
“With widespread sexual violence still a devastating reality in too many conflicts in the world, it is heartening to see that steps are being taken towards securing accountability for these acts, and that women are persevering with strength and unity in not letting these crimes go unspoken or unpunished,” said a statement released by UN Women.
Mr. Ban said that the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), Boko Haram and other extremist groups are using sexual violence as a means of attracting and retaining fighters, and to generate revenue.
The abduction of more than 200 girls from Chibok in Nigeria, and the continued tragedy of women and girls subjected to forced marriage or sexual slavery by extremist groups in the Middle East, are two of the most horrific examples of the use of sexual violence as a tactic of terrorism, Mr. Ban said, calling for the immediate release of all those taken captive, and for the care and support of those who return.
On a positive note, there has also been clear progress and unprecedented political momentum to address these crimes, he stressed.
Sexual violence is now widely recognized as a deliberate strategy used to shred the fabric of society; to control and intimidate communities and to force people from their homes. It is rightly seen as a threat to international peace and security, a serious violation of international humanitarian and human rights law, and a major impediment to post-conflict reconciliation and economic development, he said.
On 19 June 2015, the UN General Assembly (A/RES/69/293) proclaimed 19 June of each year the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, in order to raise awareness of the need to put an end to conflict-related sexual violence, to honour the victims and survivors of sexual violence around the world and to pay tribute to all those who have courageously devoted their lives to and lost their lives in standing up for the eradication of these crimes.
The date was chosen to commemorate the adoption on 19 June 2008 of Security Council resolution 1820 (2008), in which the Council condemned sexual violence as a tactic of war and an impediment to peacebuilding.