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EU at the UN

The EU's commitment to effective multilateralism, with the UN at its core, is a central element of its external action. As a UN observer with enhanced status, the EU delegation coordinates with its 28 Member States to speak with one voice. The EU also works closely with the UN secretariat and its agencies, funds & programmes, partnering on a range of global issues and challenges.

Good evening Ambassadors, Ladies and Gentlemen. Thank you for your warm welcome.

And many thanks to the wonderful Columbia University for graciously hosting me today. It is, as always, a pleasure to be back in such a great city as New York, and to speak to such a distinguished and informed audience. In fact, I hope to tap into your keen minds and out-of-the-box thinking by instigating a discussion on an important fight, one that has reached a critical point—the fight to incorporate women into security measures and end the use of sexual violence as a tool of warfare.

During the last few weeks the world has turned the eyes towards the UN, where important new steps have been taken in this fight. Never before has there been a better momentum than now for us to act seriously and committed in the fight for participation, empowerment and protection of women.

I would therefore like to address three points on these complementary issues:

    1. Who and what are we fighting for?

    2. What action is being taken and how effective is it?

    3. What needs to be done to scale up tangible results?

First, then, who and what are we fighting for?

In Europe we have been following closely developments in the United States since November 2008. Obama’s campaign of “change” was truly a universal message, and I am sure that regardless of political affiliation or background you can all agree that this “change” is having a significant influence on your lives.

But, I would like you to imagine a different kind of change… Imagine you have changed lives with Chantal, 28 years old with six children, and are now lying in a hospital bed in the Democratic Republic of Congo. You were isolated in a field by nine soldiers loyal to a General who controls the area, and they violently gang-raped you. Now, your emotional pain begins to outweigh your severe physical pain, as you realize that there is no point in even turning to a justice system owned by that same General; a system in which victory goes to the highest bidder.

Or imagine you have changed lives with Mariam in Sudan, raped by the Janjaweed militia at just 18 years old. There is no way you can collect the required four male witnesses to testify to the violation, in order to prosecute the sexual assault. Out of private shame and quiet confusion, you make the conscious decision to starve yourself to death.

Or again, imagine you have changed lives with young Rosette in Rwanda, a child born of rape in the 1994 genocide. You hear the women whisper “enfants du mauvais souvenir” as you and your friends walk by—”children of bad memories.” You walk with a devalued sense of self, destined to spend your life as someone else’s darkness.

Hard as it is for us to imagine these lives as our own, Chantal, Mariam, and Rosette have no trouble imagining – and aspiring to – lives like ours. No conflict, no witnessing of friends and families killed before us, no forced sexual submission to militias simply based on our ethnicity or allegiances, as some twisted act of conquering. And of course it goes way beyond just these three people.

More than 200,000 women and children have been raped over more than a decade of conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In fact, an average of 40 women are raped every day in that country’s South Kivu province alone. Some 50,000 to 64,000 internally displaced women in Sierra Leone have been sexually attacked by combatants. Anywhere from 20,000 to 50,000 women were raped in the 1990s during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. These numbers are shocking, but the fact that many of these violations are still taking place today, as we speak, is simply inexcusable.

The problem and its enormity are undeniable. Not only is this sexual violence intolerable, but it is being used as a deliberate strategy of war and is forcibly separating women from security issues. It is intentional, and it is coordinated.

To my second point: What action is being taken and how effective is it?

It’s true that a handful of actions have been taken.

    • The United States is giving two million dollars to help 10 women’s centers in Darfur refugee camps provide psychological counseling and medical assistance to survivors of gender-based violence.

    • The European Development Fund’s REJUSCO programme (for Restoration of Justice in Eastern Congo) is helping strengthen judicial capacity in the Congo.

    • The EC-UN Partnership on Gender Equality is helping fund action to help women in a number of countries.

But these are a drop in the ocean of need. The fact is, we are approaching the monumental 10-year anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women and security—and just passed the first anniversary of Security Council Resolution 1820 on sexual violence in conflict. Ten years, and not enough has happened. Sexual violence during conflict remains vastly under-addressed due to the weak international mechanisms for protection and inadequate responses. Rather than fixing the broader problem, our efforts have been overtaken by problems of logistics, coordination, and monitoring. We see Russia concerned over differentiating rape as a strategy of war and rape as a random crime; we see Japan concerned over how to fund collective action by states; we see countries like the US, France, , and the UK constantly suggesting what might be the next step we need to take, but with no real action. The UN resolutions are not being implemented. Broad judicial reforms are not being enacted. Progress has stalled.

The bottom line is this:

We cannot protect the women like Mariam, because we fail to coordinate the UN agencies and institutions with the NGOs in the field and the various data collection organizations. Current data is woefully inadequate and mostly anecdotal. This makes any meaningful analysis and extrapolation virtually impossible. We simply have no real targeted measures.

We cannot empower women like Chantal to seek out the justice she deserves, because we are unable to decide where or how to pressure and monitor justice systems. Few countries have taken steps to create police women protection units, or incorporate female officers into their forces like the Indian women I met who were serving in Liberia. Meanwhile, a pervasive refusal by communities to admit that this is happening goes hand in hand with a climate of impunity.

We cannot help Rosette realize that she is not a bad memory but a bright future, because there is no mechanism for including victim assistance and understanding in peace agreements. Little action has been directed towards developing female mediators in order for them to participate in negotiations, meaning that their unique and valuable understanding of victims often does not get a seat at the table. Peacekeeping operations are often only comprised of 10 to 16 percent women—their personal input is simply not being heard at the policymaking level. Meanwhile, individual partners like the US and the EU are doing all they can to send specific assistance, but the majority of victims continue to fall through the cracks as social stigmatization silences their voices.

The ball of responsibility for addressing women in security and sexual violence in conflict has been thrown into the air, and everyone is now nervously looking at each other for who will catch it. But, Ladies and Gentlemen, by prevaricating we are dropping the ball.

So finally, what needs to be done to scale up tangible results?

The adoption of UN Resolution 1888 is a huge step in the right direction. It is in the words of Ban Ki Moon “an unequivocal call to action”. I would like to thank the US government and particularly Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for their tireless efforts in getting this resolution through the Council. The appointment of a Special Representation will provide more coherent leadership, help create an enlarged global platform for commitment and encourage the much needed political ownership to drive a new way forward. This high level commitment would be based on time-bound goals, sanctions for violations, and reports on tangible progress. We are at a timely junction. UN Security Council Resolution 1820 has provided the springboard for protection. Resolution 1325, the foundation for empowerment and participation. And don’t forget that Security Council Resolution 1612 on children in armed conflict has provided the logistical precedents. This is the model which should base ourselves on.

Now, with Resolution 1888, it is time for one high-level Commission to take these complimentary resolutions forward and on behalf of the entire United Nations, provide the Secretary General with a clear and binding path for the future, encapsulating all of the UN’s efforts to promote the protection, empowerment, and participation of women. We cannot address one resolution without the other, and we cannot succeed in our fight unless we create one accountable entity and one united solution for women in security.

What then can be done to ensure that these resolutions no longer remain stagnant and really start to deliver tangible results?

First, to better protect women, we need targets that will:

    • Enact sanctions again government and non-state actors that refuse to protect their citizens. Sanctions should be established through a watch list, in order to name and shame those who refuse to address the well-being of their women.

    • Push for a systematic overhaul of current data collection practices. With more accurate measures and more effective analysis to be included in all reports to the Council, we will be able to better understand the quantitative nature of the problem, and to determine what trends can spur greater action on our part to protect the many victims in conflict.

    • Also, we need to establish a reporting cycle that encapsulates the reporting on Resolutions 1325 and 1820, providing a timely and visible status update on a regular basis.

    • And furthermore, we must establish exactly how much assistance victims need, and where that assistance can and should come from.

Second, to increase women’s participation in this struggle, we need binding targets to:

    • Put forward more women as envoys and representatives on this issue. Resolution 1888 foresees the inclusion of women in decision making, mediation processes and conflict resolution. This is a welcome commitment.

    • Work within institutions like the UN Department of Political Affairs to ensure that the sexual violence dimension is considered in all mediation processes, preferably by women as they can bring a valuable and often unheard perspective to the security discussions.

    • Provide better training on addressing sexual violence in peacekeeping operations, so that women and men can become more active players in preventing and examining this issue within their communities.

    • And incorporate sexual violence issues into the mandate of gender advisers, to help mainstream these issues into all UN entities and ensure that women, peace, and security stop being mutually exclusive issues in the international system.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, to empower women to take this fight forward, we need binding targets to:

    • Establish a primary pressure point for judicial systems where impunity is the norm or where local forces are too overwhelmed to tackle enforcement. This will help give women the peace of mind and belief that they can take their cases to their own judicial systems and see justice done.

    • Also, help communities better understand this issue—primarily in areas where rape is an unaddressed and often denied practice. Many children continue to grow up in an environment where rape and other forms of sexual violence are the norm. A World Commission for the Protection, Empowerment and Participation of Women will focus on promoting on-the-ground efforts to teach girls that gender-based violence is not a fact of life, and boys that this behaviour is morally unacceptable.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is an historical moment in the fight to make women a feature of security issues and to end sexual violence as a weapon of mass destruction. I am happy to stand before you and make the case for it. And I am delighted that the Spanish presidency of the EU in 2010 has this issue at the top of their agenda. From today forward, we must endorse a renewed commitment for the protection, participation, and empowerment of women. From today forward, we must strive for one common solution to one multidimensional problem. From today forward, we must show our support for binding and achievable targets.

Change is within reach in the desperate fight against rape as a strategy of warfare. Change for the future; change for the better; change for Chantal, Mariam, and Rosette. Together we can make it happen.

Thank you.


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