Addressing Impunity: Effective justice for crimes of sexual violence in conflict
UNITED NATIONS SECURITY COUNCIL
Statement by HE Mr Gary Quinlan, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations
Thank you, Mr President. And thank you for the United Kingdom’s leadership – and Foreign Secretary Hague’s personal drive – to bring more serious, systematic international focus to the prevention of sexual violence. And the Secretary-General and Special Representative Bangura for their determined commitment, and Ms Adong Anywar and all her colleagues for their inspirational work in the field – so often in the face of the corrosive violence of indifference. And to Ms Angelina Jolie for her uninhibited advocacy and reminder to this Council that so many millions of people rely on us.
We know that sexual violence is both a tactic and consequence of conflict. It can prolong and deepen conflict. Its prevention is intrinsic to the protection of civilians in conflict, a primordial concern of this Council. And to rebuilding societies devastated by conflict. As successive resolutions make plain, sexual violence goes to the heart of the Council’s mandate in conflict and post-conflict situations. But despite the Council’s clear stance against sexual violence in conflict, terrible numbers of women and girls, and men and boys, continue to be affected by it. Sexual violence is a concern – even endemic – in many current situations on the Council’s daily agenda – the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan and of course Syria.
In the face of such violence, the international community’s strong expectation is that the Council will do more. It should continue to demand it of us. The Council’s open debate on 17 April addressed many of the most compelling issues we need to. Today’s resolution is a further step towards ensuring that sexual violence is addressed across the breadth of our work. This must be practical and programmatic. This includes the consistent application of targeted sanctions, and eliciting and monitoring commitments from all parties to conflict
Today I want to focus on the current culture of impunity. Changing this to one of accountability is fundamental to deterrence and prevention. We have recognised that sexual violence can constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity. We have recognised that States have an obligation to investigate and prosecute such crimes. And we have recognised that ending impunity is a critical part of achieving lasting peace. But we have seen only a tiny number of perpetrators brought to justice. This sends a dangerous message that sexual violence is still tolerated – as SRSG Bangura said this morning: “Today it is still largely cost-free to rape a woman, child or man in conflict”.
States have the primary obligation to investigate and prosecute crimes of sexual violence. This requires States to criminalise each recognised sexual violence crime, namely rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilisation and other forms of sexual violence of comparable gravity. Of course it is not sufficient to just have these crimes on the books. Female victims of sexual violence must be provided with equal access to justice, which requires substantive rights to be recognised and women and girls to be encouraged to exercise their rights. Measures must be adopted to encourage victims and witnesses to testify against perpetrators and to protect those who do. National capacity must be developed to translate substantive laws into successful investigations and prosecutions.
In this context, we commend the work being done by the UN’s Team of Experts on the Rule of Law and Sexual Violence in Conflict, the UK’s Team of Experts, Justice Rapid Response and the Institute for International Criminal Investigations, among others. The Australian Civilian Corps is strengthening its gender-based violence expertise to complement these efforts. Obviously, even the most sophisticated criminal justice systems will be of little use if the political will to investigate and prosecute perpetrators is lacking. National authorities must fight stigmas that impede the reporting of incidents of sexual violence to law enforcement authorities. Investigators must be trained to look for evidence of sexual violence crimes and to gather the evidence necessary to sustain prosecutions. Crimes of sexual violence, like other serious international crimes, must be excluded from amnesty provisions. States should also consider complementary processes, such as truth and reconciliation commissions, to supplement criminal accountability processes.
Where national jurisdictions are unable or unwilling to prosecute crimes of sexual violence, the Council should consider International Criminal Court referral – and ensure that the Council supports subsequent ICC activities. We commend the ICC on its leadership in seeking to ensure that crimes of sexual violence are not neglected in the fight against impunity.
To conclude, Mr President
We have focussed today on the victims of sexual violence, victims who are overwhelmingly female. But women, of course, are not just victims. They are critical agents in conflict prevention, resolution, rebuilding and reconciliation. Just as we must ensure women’s full and effective participation in efforts to address sexual violence through both prevention and protection, we must also utilise their decisive power to bring about peace. This is fundamental to the Council’s work.