We must create and safeguard an environment that prevents sexual violence

Statement to UN Security Council Open Debate on Women, Peace and Security: Sexual Violence in Conflict

Thank you Mr President for convening this debate and to all the briefers for your courageous dedication.

In the ICRC's work with affected communities in armed conflict, sexual violence has been highlighted as a top concern from young women in particular. Other groups have named it among their major fears alongside community tensions, loss of means, and displacement.

Political attention on sexual violence has been raised to the highest levels. The burning question now is: how can it compel a collective response – focusing on the affected population – including those at risk of sexual violence?

On behalf of the ICRC, a neutral, impartial and independent humanitarian organization, I wish today to outline three levels where there are challenges and opportunities to work together - States, humanitarian actors, and other partners.

First, at the victim/survivor level, there is a lack of support in addressing medical care, mental health, shelter, economic insecurity, and exclusion.

We ask you in your respective capacities to support these needs and the acceptance of survivors. One concrete ask we have is to provide safe and confidential access to health care to prevent further risks to survivors who come forward.

For our part, at the victim/survivor level the ICRC is supporting health centers in the Central African Republic and Mali through training, financial and technical assistance.

Second, at the community level, we see challenges stemming from the lack of information on available services, deterioration of safety leading to increased risk of sexual violence, and harmful coping strategies for protection or income generation.

We ask you to support risk reduction. Support social cohesion among community members or economic means as alternatives to harmful coping strategies.

For the ICRC's part, in the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Nigeria – it is the communities themselves who are identifying problems, causes, consequences and capacities. Guided by the communities, as experts of their own situation, we are working hand in hand with them on the solutions they propose to reduce risk exposure.

Third, at the State and Institutional level, we see challenges arising from inadequate criminalization of sexual violence and lack of State and local capacity to respond. Weak chains of command, poor judicial systems and ineffective measures to reduce sexual violence in detention create further obstacles.

Together, we must create and safeguard an environment that prevents sexual violence. This is possible by establishing adequate normative frameworks, building capacity of judicial bodies and ensuring respect for international humanitarian law (IHL) and other bodies of law. The 1949 Geneva Conventions were the first treaties to prohibit rape and other forms of sexual violence in armed conflict.

For our part, the ICRC will continue to engage with all parties to armed conflict to ensure respect for IHL. We will continue to lend technical expertise to lawmakers and military officials, and to support structures to address sexual violence including in detention.

Mr President,

Let us work together to respond on these 3 levels – Victim/Survivor, Community and State. As we mark the 70th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions this year, let us also recall its spirit – to uphold human dignity in the midst of armed conflict.