On Tuesday the United Nations held their second annual International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict. There was a panel discussion held in the ECOSOC Chamber at the UNHQ that brought together representatives from all over the world to discuss the tools required to deter and ultimately eliminate sexual violence in armed conflicts. The event was hosted by Argentina and moderated by Argentinian Representative Martin Garcia Moritan. Collectively, the speakers spoke similarly about the problems and solutions that needed to be identified to begin the elimination and persecution of perpetrators of sexual violence.
We are now seeing a manifestation of the legitimizing of the issue of sexual violence as a threat to national peace and security by the international diplomatic community. This allows it to become a regular point of interest in international peace and security discussions. This recent shift greatly signifies the duty international diplomats have to protect victims and further prevent victimization. It emphasizes political will as an essential mechanism for positive change within this issue.
The speakers repeatedly reinforced the importance of remembering the consequences of sexual violence lie far beyond the incidents themselves. Victims are stigmatized by their communities, suffer physical and mental damage, and even become pregnant. They are too frequently filled with shame and guilt, which are emotions that should be left for the attackers.
The stigma experienced by victims of sexual violence must end. Individuals who fall victim to sexual violence are often too scared of stigmatization by their community to come forward about their victimization. The panelists discussed how vital safe spaces are for victims of sexual violence. Facilitating an environment to allow victims the opportunity to safely come forward about their attacks will begin to alleviate the common problem of crimes of sexual violence going unreported. If victims are empowered to speak up as opposed to being shamed, then more crimes will be reported and perpetrators will be deterred.
A few speakers discussed procedures performed in their home countries that were suggested as possible remedies. For example, the permanent resident of Colombia spoke about a Constitutional amendment that was ratified in Colombia that called for stronger inquiries and investigations into sexual violence with regard to peace and impunity. The representative from Japan said there was a smaller investigative team that is funded by a small number of donor to investigate crimes of sexual violence. The representatives from Spain, Australia, and the European Union all stated the important role their countries have already given to the issue of sexual violence.
Another vital step to eliminating the problem of sexual violence in conflict is to improve judicial processes that deal with these crimes. Judiciaries need to be more efficient and provide clear procedures. The judges reviewing these cases must be appropriately trained and the victims must feel safe to adequately recall the events that took place. A reoccurring theme in the panel was the important link between accountability and prevention. Adequate accountability entails a judicial system that can tackle such cases and punish perpetrators sufficiently. A “hybrid judiciary” was suggested by a representative from the Central African Republic, that provides a combination of efforts by the ICC, the UN, and NGOs on the ground.
The panel played an important role in addressing the long-lasting consequences of sexual violence in armed conflicts and the solutions that states and international bodies should strive to achieve. This panel accentuated the common interests and goals a multitude of powerful nations have, which offered some optimism to an issue that usually only brings about dismay.
More information about the event can be found here.