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Remarks by Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield at a UN Security Council Open Debate on Sexual Violence in Conflict

Linda Thomas-Greenfield

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
April 14, 2021



Thank you, Mr. President. And thank you so much for convening this very important debate. I want to also thank the SRSG for her remarks and her comments and thank all of the briefers for your interventions today. And it’s really great to see you, Dr. Mukwege, it’s been a while since we’ve seen each other.

The United States greatly appreciates the work of the UN on this issue and, in particular, the work done by the Office of the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict. We are extremely proud of our continued support for the SRSG’s office and our contributions to this office to help facilitate their important work, and we strongly encourage other Member States to provide support.

Around the world, sexual violence is used as a deliberate tactic in armed conflict – whether to terrorize, destabilize, or break bonds within communities. That makes conflict-related sexual violence a security issue and a human rights issue. And it demands collective action.

In particular, right now the Security Council needs to pay attention to deeply disturbing reports of mass sexual violence occurring in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. We as a Council must address reports of women being forced by military elements to have sex for basic commodities, and reports of sexual violence against women and girls in refugee camps, among other horrific information. The international community must work to ensure that all those involved respect their obligations under international human rights law and international humanitarian law. And the international community must establish immediate protection mechanisms, humanitarian aid, and other needed services for survivors. Independent, credible investigations must be conducted to hold perpetrators of these, and other human rights abuses and violations committed in Tigray, accountable.

And in Burma, where the same military leaders responsible for a campaign of sexual violence in Rakhine State have now returned to power, women and girls across the country are facing even graver risks.

Of course, gender-based violence is a crisis around the world. One in every three women will experience physical or sexual violence in her lifetime. That is beyond a crisis; that is a calamity. The pandemic has made the situation even more dire. Social isolation and financial desperation have led to a spike in gender-based violence this past year, especially intimate partner violence and violence against girls.

So, I’d like to talk about three ways we can address this emergency.

First, we can help prevent sexual violence by elevating women and putting them into positions of power. It is absolutely essential that women fully, equally, and meaningfully participate in peace and security processes. After all, women make the world more peaceful. And that is not anecdotal. That is a fact. By promoting women’s participation and leadership – in politics, in mediations, and in negotiations – we promote more security and peace. And by doing that, we will help prevent sexual violence in conflict from ever happening in the first place.

Second, the best way to address gender-based violence after it happens, especially when it’s used as a weapon of war, is to take a survivor-centered approach. That means providing survivors with access to medical care – particularly clinical management of rape, psycho-social support, and sexual and reproductive health services. It also means providing survivors with social support and legal services, all to create a supportive environment in which a survivor’s rights are respected and the survivor is treated with dignity and respect.

For our part, President Biden has committed the United States to providing sexual and reproductive healthcare and services for women around the world, especially women who have been impacted by conflict-related sexual violence.

Third and finally, we must pay special attention to under-examined and under-reported forms of sexual violence. In many places, for example, the LGBTQI+ community faces outsized levels of sexual violence. We must more closely examine what can be done to safely identify survivors and provide necessary support for this community, particularly medical care and psycho-social support.

Also, under-reported and under-examined is the impact of sexual violence on men and boys. In Afghanistan, for example, the terrible practice of bacha bazi – the commercial and sexual exploitation of boys – is well-documented as occurring within the security forces and is exacerbated by the country’s conflict. The scourge of sexual violence must be eradicated in all of its forms – especially as a weapon of war.

Speaking more broadly on gender-based violence, the United States* has called the increased rate of violence over the last year “the shadow pandemic.” Well, I’d say it’s time to bring gender-based violence out of the shadows. Together, we have to work to shine a light on it. And let’s treat this like an emergency, with the urgency that it demands.

Thank you, Mr. President.

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