Statement by H.E. Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, Minister of Foreign Affairs of South Africa, at the Security Council Open Thematic Debate on Sexual Violence in Conflict Situations, 19 June 2008

Thank you Madame President, Secretary-General and Deputy Secretary-General

We commend the United States for organizing this Open Thematic Debate on Sexual Violence in Conflict Situations and thank Madame Secretary Rice for presiding this meeting today.

Madame President,

Since its creation, the United Nations has grappled with the issue of sexual violence committed against women and girls in conflict situations. As a result, an international framework specific to women and girls was established and strengthened over time to protect women and girls from all forms of violence, especially sexual violence in armed conflict. Today, we recognize that violence against women, including rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization or any other form of sexual violence still remains. Sexual violence constitutes a war crime and a crime against humanity when committed as part of a widespread and systematic attack on a civilian population by State and non-State actors. It was for this reason that when the International Criminal Court was created, South Africa recommended that sexual violence be among the crimes referred to this court which is a tool against impunity.

Yet, despite these milestones, more work still need to be done in support and protection of women and girls in conflict and post-conflict societies. Women and girls continue to make up a disproportionate number of victims in situations of armed conflict. Those who survive conflict are traumatized, victimized stigmatized yet again just because they are women. As a result, women and girls are afraid to speak out about their ordeal or even to believe there could be any recourse for their suffering.

Madame President,

The silence around sexual violence in conflict situations must be broken. During South Africa’s Presidency of the Council in March 2007, we adopted a Presidential Statement expressing the need for specific measures to be taken to ensure protection against sexual violence and to put an end to impunity. We further recognized that while the situation of women and girls, particularly in conflict areas remains desperate and unacceptable, the silence around sexual violence could be broken when we resist seeing women and girls as passive victims. While women may be the first casualties of war, they remain active agents of change and play a meaningful role in the recovery and reintegration of their families and communities where women are policy-makers and they have been instrumental in bringing about democracy and reconciliation in post-conflict societies.

Sexual violence in conflict situations is inextricably linked to gender inequality and we therefore need to advocate more strongly for the equal participation and full involvement of women in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security. In this regard, Member States must continually look at measures in strengthening full and effective implementation of Resolution 1325 particularly by forming partnerships with civil society, the private sector and community-based organizations.

Equally important is the need to ensure that the mandates of UN peacekeeping operations include clear guidelines for the protection of civilians from sexual violence. Gender-sensitive training, the deployment of more women peacekeepers and appointment of more women Special Representatives and Envoys of the Secretary-General should be implemented. There is practical evidence that the deployment of women enhances the impact of peacekeeping, especially for women and children in conflict areas. The deployment of women facilitates engagement with local women through the setting up of women’s desks in IDP and refugee camps that assists women to talk about their needs and trauma, including information sharing on sexual harassment, abuse and rape.

Furthermore, the presence of women peacekeepers has a positive transformational impact in terms of redefining the roles that women can play in all aspects of peace processes and national reconstruction and development. South Africa is proud of our contribution to the representation of women in United Nations peacekeeping operations in Africa that is rooted in our mainstreaming of gender and human rights in pre-deployment training.

Madame President,

The security sector of conflict and post-conflict countries must be reformed to prevent and better respond to sexual violence. In order to build effective, non-discriminatory and representative security institutions, it is essential to provide personnel with effective and sustainable gender training and capacity building. Women’s access to justice and participation in the legal system would also contribute meaningfully to a well-functioning and gender-sensitive security framework.

We are pleased that the UN system has become more coordinated in its efforts to address all forms of violence, especially sexual violence against women and girls in armed conflict.  A better-coordinated UN system would ensure that adequate information collection and management systems would be in place in conflict situations to collect and feed data on sexual violence to the Secretary-General.

Finally, Madame President, we note with satisfaction that the resolution reaffirms the primary responsibility of the international community to ensure that adequate resources are made available to address the immediate and long-term needs of women and girls who have endured sexual violence.  Perhaps even more important, the resolution reaffirms the implementation of the obligations of CEDAW, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and Optional Protocols thereto aimed at addressing discrimination against women and girls.  We must work for a non-discriminatory and non-sexist society in which all women and girls are treated as equal citizens.  The end of discrimination against women will go a long way toward addressing the root causes of sexual violence. This is the least we can do for women and girls everywhere.

I thank you.

Issued by Department of Foreign Affairs
Private Bag X152

20 June 2008

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