The international community must act now to protect future generations from the scourge of conflict-related sexual violence, the UN’s advocate on the issue, Pramila Patten, told the Security Council on Friday.
“Every new wave of warfare brings with it a rising tide of human tragedy, including new waves of war’s oldest, most silenced and least condemned crime,” she said.
The Council meeting to examine implementation of its resolutions on conflict-related sexual violence was convened by the United Kingdom, which holds the rotating presidency this month.
Meetings survivors in DRC
Ms. Patten presented data from her latest report, published last month, which documented 2,455 UN-verified cases of wartime rape committed during 2022. Women and girls accounted for 94 per cent, with six per cent against men and boys.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) was again the country with the highest number of cases, 701. The UN expert visited the country in June and was horrified by the testimonies of women and girls, many of whom had been very recently raped.
“So many of them stressed the daily risk of sexual violence while carrying out livelihood activities around the camps, such as searching for food, collecting wood or water. Just imagine facing the reality each day that you are likely to be raped, yet having no choice,” she said.
Visit to Ukraine
Ms. Patten also conducted her first field visit to Ukraine last year. She was struck by both the occurrence of sexual violence in conflict zones and the vulnerability of women and children forced to flee to countries such as Poland and Moldova.
“I witnessed first-hand the extraordinary toll on women, children and the elderly, including their vulnerability to unscrupulous individuals and criminal networks for whom the rapid and unprecedented mass displacement of people is not a tragedy but an opportunity for trafficking and sexual exploitation,” she said.
Impunity going unpunished
Ms. Patten’s annual report also detailed horrors committed in other countries, such as Haiti, Ethiopia and Iraq. Serious allegations of conflict-related sexual violence in Sudan have also surfaced since fighting erupted in April.
The report also clearly demonstrates the emboldening effects of impunity, she said. Nearly 50 parties, mostly non-State actors, are listed for systematically committing sexual violence. More than 70 per cent have appeared on the list for five years or more.
“The reality is that until we effectively raise the cost and consequences for committing, commanding or condoning sexual violence, we will never stem the tide of such violations,” she said.
Resolve and resources
Ms. Patten called for greater political resolve and resources. She said there is more knowledge today about what motivates sexual violence, who the perpetrators are, and the response required by survivors.
It is essential that prevention efforts are grounded in this enhanced knowledge, she said, which is at the heart of a strategy launched by her office last September.
She advised that the international community must ensure implementation of Security Council resolutions while adapting actions to today’s conflicts and emerging global challenges, such as cyber threats and climate-related insecurity.
“The time is now to double down on the institutional and accountability frameworks put in place by successive resolutions,” she said. “We must act urgently, and with sustained resolve, to save succeeding generations from this scourge.”