Today, Youth to End Sexual Violence was at a special UN General Assembly meeting organized by the United Kingdom and the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict. Last year, 113 countries signed the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. Since the signing, 155 countries have endorsed the Declaration, and at the Global Summit in June, the United Kingdom published the International Protocol on the Documentation and Investigation of Sexual Violence in Conflict, providing governments and civil society with a valuable tool on how to best collect evidence in cases of rape and other forms of sexual violence.
“We have finally broken the silence on this devastating crime that casts a shadow over our collective humanity…now there can be no arguments: sexual violence in conflict requires a response in proportion to the damage it causes.” - UN Special Representative, Zainab Bangura
We commend the Special Representative for emphasizing the need to keep survivors at the center of our efforts to eliminate sexual violence in conflict. “We are finally beginning to redirect the stigma of this crime from the survivors to the perpetrators. The Global Summit was a great reaffirmation of our commitment to offer protection and provide access to justice and services to victims of sexual violence. Crucially, we’re now beginning to see the countries most affected by this violence take the lead to end this scourge.”
And we’re pleased to report that many of these countries have made considerable and commendable progress in the fight against sexual violence:
Somalia has presented a draft national action plan to end sexual violence as a first step to implementing the UN declaration of commitment.
The President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo has appointed Jeanine Mabunda as his personal adviser on sexual violence and child recruitment, to mobilize and coordinate a comprehensive response on this issue. In further collaboration with the Office of the Special Representative and the UN team of experts, the National Army of the DRC has adopted a groundbreaking action plan to improve prevention and accountability for sexual violence.
Côte d’Ivoire has formally launched a national strategy to combat sexual and gender based violence.
We heard from Bukeni Waruzi, Senior Program Manager at WITNESS, an NGO that trains and supports activists around the world to use video safely and effectively to expose human rights abuse, and effectively fight for human rights change. Bukeni discussed the importance of implementing the Protocol for the ethical considerations of victim interviewing and evidence collection. Mr. Waruzi urged members of government, civil society, and other humanitarian actors to utilize the protocol as a framework to collect evidence that actually helps victims. “Though we may try to define our community of documenters, we live in a world with wide ranging access to technology. This can lead to danger, but it can also lead opportunities if utilized correctly.”
We recognize that the insufficient understanding of ethical and proper methodologies for evidence and data collection (interviews with victims of sexual violence, especially) may lead to re-traumatization when victims are asked similar questions by various data collectors from different organizations and agencies.
Kate Gilmore, Deputy Executive Director (Programme) of UNFPA, pointed out that the process justice is not confined to a criminal court. “The process of justice is also how we all denounce and declare ourselves on this phenomenon [rape and other forms of sexual violence in conflict] that affects women and children. We must seek to provide justice, in its fullest expression, in response to the most intimate of crimes - that of sexual violence.”
We agree that to provide holistic justice, the international community must collectively denounce and declare that sexual violence in conflict is a gross violation of human rights. That is why we are calling upon governments to endorse the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict.
Youth urge all governments to join the global movement to provide support for sexual violence survivors, and to end the use of rape as a weapon of war. Youth urge all governments to develop and enforce robust national laws to hold perpetrators accountable for sexual violence, with a particular focus on the training of lawyers and law enforcement officials in the investigation and prosecution of cases involving sexual violence. Youth urge all governments to commit sustained resources for the full range of medical, psychosocial, legal, and livelihood services for survivors, and to increase funding to community-based organizations and civil society organizations that are at the forefront of this battle.
We still have a long way to go, but we remain confident in the commitments and declarations of our governments and the UN. Together in solidarity, we will stop rape.
Help us #EndTheSilence. It’s #TimeToAct.