Holistic Solutions in Addressing Gender-Based Violence Key to Tackling Multiple Crises in Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Security Council Told

Sexual Crimes ‘No Longer in the Shadows’, Says Bolivia, As Deputy Secretary-General Briefs on Bid to Drive Women, Peace, Security Agenda

Donors, neighbouring countries and other partners must invest in holistic solutions to the multiple crises faced by Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo — and felt disproportionately by women and girls — the Security Council heard today as it was briefed on a unique joint mission to the region.

Amina J. Mohammed, United Nations Deputy Secretary-General and one of four women leading the recent African Union-United Nations mission to Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, described the 19-27 July visit as “the first of its kind” — a high-level mission focused entirely on women, peace and security.  She was joined by the Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women), the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict and the African Union Commission’s Special Envoy on Women, Peace and Security, she said, adding that, besides meeting with Heads of State and other officials, they had spent most of their time with the women and girls most affected by conflict.

“We were four African women, from two organizations, visiting two countries, with one goal:  advancing peace by advancing the equality, empowerment and well‑being of women,” she said.  Both Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo suffered dismayingly low levels of political participation by women and were experiencing conflicts marked by high levels of sexual and gender-based violence.  Noting that both countries also faced grave humanitarian crises, she called upon donors to bridge funding gaps and went on to outline some of the complexities on the ground.  In northern Nigeria, for example — where 1.9 million people had been displaced and 8.5 million were in need of assistance — abductions, forced marriage and the use of women as suicide bombers had taken a terrible toll.  Sexual exploitation in the camps — including the “sex-for-food” variant — was an alarming new trend, while, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, both State and non‑State armed actors continued to perpetrate violence.

Emphasizing that the joint mission had been intended to “put life into” Council resolutions on women, peace and security, she said “we’re working to change the narrative” as the mission represented a new effort to address the most vulnerable segments of the population.  Going forward, such missions would be conducted not just in Africa, but in many regions.  Noting that the distribution of food in camps for displaced persons should be carried out by women, not men, she urged the United Nations to take real action to impact people’s lives.

Tété António, Permanent Observer for the African Union, said the “solidarity mission” had enabled the African Union and the United Nations to better assess the positive role that women could play in advancing peace, security and development.  Emphasizing the need to support the social and economic empowerment of women in order to prevent marginalization that could lead to exclusion and radicalization, he added that more joint humanitarian assistance was needed in conflict-affected regions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Citing some of the mission’s recommendations, he stressed the need for a greater focus on enabling the return and empowerment of the internally displaced, as well as refugees and on stabilizing countries facing peace and security changes.

Bolivia’s representative, speaking as Council members took the floor, said “this trip could be the first of many” of its kind, not only in Africa, but around the world.  The crime of conflict-related sexual violence — one of the most inhumane possible — was no longer being perpetrated in the shadows, and now was the time for the international community to tackle it at both the global and national levels.  Noting that the violent extremism perpetrated by Boko Haram in Nigeria was leaving deep scars in the country’s female population, he warned against any attempts to legitimize profits obtained through forced prostitution or allow the use of tax havens by terrorists.  He also voiced concern about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, reports of sexual violence and cases of executions and arbitrary detentions.

The United Kingdom’s representative, meanwhile, said the mission had brought home to the Council the “horrific and disproportionate” impact of the conflicts in Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo on women and girls.  The reports coming out of the latter’s Kasaï region, in particular, “should make us all sick to our stomachs”, he said, pointing to rampant sexual and gender-based violence and the 400,000 children currently at risk of severe acute malnutrition.  “We need to break the cycle” of violence in both countries, he stressed, noting that the Governments bore the primary responsibility in that regard and must respect both human rights and humanitarian law in doing so.

Likewise, France’s representative said the violence in Kasai had reached an untenable level and urged the Congolese authorities to cooperate fully with the panel of experts that the Human Rights Council set up in June.  The Secretary-General must meanwhile establish a special inquiry to shed light on the death of two experts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo sanctions committee, she said.

Senegal’s representative said the mission’s composition, beyond just being symbolic, was an excellent example of cooperation between the United Nations and the African Union.  “This concerted model of action is undoubtedly one more step in implementing resolution 2242 (2015),” he said, referring to the text intended to improve the implementation of resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security.  The joint mission had gathered critical information and convened important meetings with senior Government officials, as well as women and girls on the ground, which would enable the Council to bolster its work in support of that agenda, he said, adding that an African Union meeting to be held next month would provide another opportunity to follow up on it.

Nigeria’s representative described a range of national laws and programmes aimed at addressing the crises facing his country, including a revised action plan for the implementation of Council resolution 1325 (2000) and related resolutions, the establishment of a National Human Rights Commission and initiatives to re‑radicalize convicted terrorists and secure the release of the remaining abducted Chibok girls.  In addition, it had established on 5 August the Judicial Commission to investigate human rights abuses committed by military personnel in the country.  While the perpetrators of sexual violence must be held accountable, the State’s capacity to do so — and the prevalence of weak structures and institutions — must also be addressed.  “Dealing with the political economy of conflicts in a more holistic manner is crucial to finding potential remedies,” he said.

Also speaking were representatives of the United States, Russian Federation, Italy, Ethiopia, Ukraine, Uruguay, Japan, Sweden, Kazakhstan, China and Egypt.

The meeting began at 10:04 a.m. and ended at 12:22 p.m.

Briefing

AMINA J. MOHAMMED, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, described her recent visit to Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo as the first of its kind — a high-level meeting focused entirely on women, peace and security.  Joining her on that mission were the Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women), the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict and the African Union Commission’s Special Envoy on Women, Peace and Security.  “We were four African women, from two organizations, visiting two countries, with one goal:  advancing peace by advancing the equality, empowerment and well-being of women,” she said.

She went on to say that, in both countries, they had met with Heads of State, ministers, donors, diplomats, faith leaders, parliamentarians, as well as United Nations missions and country teams.  Emphasizing that the team had spent the lion’s share of their time with the women and girls most affected by conflict — including by visiting camps for the internally displaced — she said both countries suffered dismayingly low levels of political participation by women and were experiencing conflicts marked by high levels of sexual- and gender-based violence.  In northern Nigeria, abductions, forced marriage and the use of women as suicide bombers had taken a terrible toll, she said, adding that sexual exploitation in the camps, including the “sex-for-food” variant, was an alarming new trend.

Both countries also faced grave humanitarian crises, with the eight-year-long conflict in north-eastern Nigeria generating a further risk of famine, displacing 1.9 million people and leaving 8.5 million in need of assistance.  Calling upon donors to bridge the gaps in humanitarian funding, she went on to describe her meeting with Nigeria’s Chibok girls, describing their strength as survivors rather than victims as inspiring.  She commended the Governments of Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Nigeria for their efforts to promote stability, including through the Multinational Joint Task Force within the Lake Chad Basin Regional Cooperation.

The situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo also remained complex and volatile, she said, noting that both State and non-State armed actors were perpetrating violence, boosting illicit flows of natural resources and deepening political tensions, including those arising from delayed elections.  “There are real risks of increased political instability and a deepening crisis if the 31 December 2016 agreement becomes irrelevant,” she warned, recalling that the mission had emphasized the need to respect and implement that accord in all their meetings.  Outlining the progress made in registering voters — 48 per cent of whom were women — she recalled that President Joseph Kabila had committed to releasing an electoral calendar and holding violence-free, Congolese-led elections in which international observers would be welcome.

The joint mission had also visited women in Goma, she said, adding that they were being moved as a result of the closure of a camp for the internally displaced where they had lived for years in barely life-sustaining conditions.  Other women had no choice but to use coal for cooking in their tents at great risk to their health and that of their children.  “While many debate the humanitarian-development nexus here in New York, without resources flowing to both sectors simultaneously and a real investment in early recovery, we can neither sustain peace nor prevent future gender-based violence,” she emphasized, encouraging donors to respond to the reintegration challenges of the Democratic Republic of Congo “based on need, and need alone”.  She said the joint team had also met with officials over the recent murder of two United Nations experts.

Statements

TÉTÉ ANTÓNIO, Permanent Observer for the African Union, said the “solidarity mission” had enabled the African Union and the United Nations to better assess the positive role that women could play in advancing peace, security and development.  It had also reinforced the need for the two organizations to work with Governments, civil society, women and youth to achieve positive results.  He emphasized the need to support the social and economic empowerment of women in order to prevent marginalization that could lead to exclusion and radicalization, while addressing changing patterns of conflict and their dire consequences on vulnerable populations in the face of transnational actors who were constantly changing their modus operandi.  He recalled that the African Union Peace and Security Council, at its 19 July session, had called upon the international community to help alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Niger and the Lake Chad Basin area.

Meanwhile, more joint humanitarian efforts and assistance remained to be delivered in conflict-affected regions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he continued.  Highlighting the solidarity mission’s key recommendations, he said they included the need for a greater focus on enabling the return and empowerment of the internally displaced, as well as refugees, particularly women and children; on stabilizing countries facing peace and security changes; on enhancing access for humanitarian organizations; and on enhancing the effective participation of women and youth in conflict prevention, mediation, electoral processes and decision-making.  He said the Action Plan of the African Women Leaders Network, launched by the African Union Commission in partnership with UN-Women and Germany, reinforced the need to create a fund that could address capacity-building through education.  The emerging strategic partnership between the African Union and the United Nations must be reinforced — on the basis of a creative reading of Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter — to allow the African Union and its subregional mechanisms to perform fully their roles as integral components of collective security.

MATTHEW RYCROFT (United Kingdom) said the recent joint African Union-United Nations mission had brought home to the Council the “horrific and disproportionate” impact that the conflicts in Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo were having on women and girls.  Despite the efforts of both organizations, the suffering continued, with 2 million people displaced in the Lake Chad region, most due to the insurgency.  The Democratic Republic of the Congo now had the highest displaced population in Africa.  The reports coming out of the country’s Kasaï region “should make us all sick to our stomachs”, he said, pointing in particular to rampant sexual and gender-based violence and the 400,000 children currently at risk of severe acute malnutrition.  “We need to break the cycle” of violence in both countries, he stressed, noting that the Governments bore the primary responsibility in that regard and must respect both human rights and humanitarian law, while protecting civilians and investigating all allegations of crimes, including against their own soldiers or United Nations staff.  “The rule of law applies to everyone,” he said, noting that the United Kingdom had pledged $6 million to support the humanitarian response in Kasai and supported the deployment of a team of experts to investigate that situation there.  It was also providing legal assistance in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  “Ultimately, these are short-term solutions,” he said, calling for long-term progress on the women, peace and security agenda.

FODÉ SECK (Senegal), describing Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo as the “giants of the region” in terms of size, economy, population and other areas, voiced support for the use of a women, peace and security approach to the conflicts there.  The composition of the joint mission, beyond just being symbolic, was an excellent example of cooperation between the United Nations and the African Union, he said, noting that it had yielded a number of significant impacts.  “This concerted model of action is undoubtedly one more step in implementing resolution 2242 (2015),” he said.  That mission had gathered critical information and convened important meetings with senior Government officials, as well as women and girls on the ground, which would enable the Council to bolster its work in support of the women, peace and security agenda.  A meeting of the African Union, to be held in Addis Ababa next month, would provide another opportunity to further follow up on the mission.

SACHA SERGIO LLORENTTY SOLÍZ (Bolivia) said “this trip could be the first of many” of its kind, not only in Africa, but around the world.  The crime of conflict-related sexual violence — one of the most inhumane possible — was no longer being perpetrated in the shadows.  Now was the time for the international community to tackle it at both the global and national levels.  Recalling that the Council had adopted eight resolutions addressing conflict-related sexual violence and had long recognized the relationship between that crime and issues of international peace and security, he said violent extremism perpetrated by Boko Haram in Nigeria was leaving deep scars in the country’s female population.  Warning against any attempts to legitimize profits obtained through forced prostitution and allowing the use of tax havens by terrorists, he also voiced concern about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, reports of sexual violence and cases of executions and arbitrary detentions.  The victims of such crimes also faced stigma and discrimination, as did the children born of rape, he said, calling for enhanced reintegration programmes.  Pointing out that gender equality and the empowerment of women were also critical elements of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, he went on to describe Bolivia’s efforts to enhance women’s political participation and boost their development.

MICHELE SISON (United States) said the Council needed to do a better job of understanding the threats that women faced in conflict zones, as well as acknowledging it could better help countries recover from conflict by promoting the full inclusion of women in peace processes.  Emphasizing that the use of sexual violence in conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo had a long history, most recently in Kasai, she said the Council need to act now, including by demanding that Government forces cease violations and hold perpetrators accountable.  She said her country would continue to work with Nigeria to root out Boko Haram, adding, however, that its Government must also work to win the peace by strengthening institutions, supporting development and providing services to citizens.  Noting that women were among the first victims when conflict broke out, she said the United States remained committed to its implementation of its action plan on women, peace and security.  The Council’s responsibility was to follow up today’s briefing with consequences for those who perpetrated abuses.

MALE (Russian Federation) expressed his country’s support for the conflict prevention and resolution efforts of the African Union and subregional organizations, which had the best information about the situation on the ground.  The African Union’s five-year plan on gender issues was a clear example of regional initiatives to bolster women’s participation in peace processes.  Expressing concern over the use of sexual violence by terrorist groups like Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) and Boko Haram, he urged greater cooperation among States in that regard.  More needed to be done to address the situation in the Kasaï, he said, warning however against pinning blame on Congolese soldiers and police officers pending the outcome of an investigation by the authorities.  Emphasizing that protection of women in armed conflict was primarily the responsibility of States, he said the international community faced significant challenges in helping to build national capacity in that regard.

INIGO LAMBERTINI (Italy) said it was vital to ensure better gender mainstreaming and for the United Nations to continue its advocacy work in support of national efforts.  Women were a driving force for development even in the most challenging situations, he said.  He underscored the major threat in Nigeria posed by Boko Haram to peace and security, including through the abduction of women and children, adding that in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, scene of one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, women and children were suffering most of the consequences.  He expressed deep concern over the political situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, emphasizing the urgent need to implement the 31 December 2016 peace agreement and for elections to be organized with full and equal participation of women.

MAHLET HAILU GUADEY (Ethiopia) said the use of sexual violence as a tactic by Boko Haram and other terrorist groups in the region was a tragic and serious crime, as well as a source of grave concern.  The root causes of the conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo must be addressed in order to reduce tension and avoid further displacement, she said, spotlighting the particular protection needs of women and girls.  Calling for enhanced efforts to achieve sustainable solutions for the region’s displaced population, she went on to underscore the importance of cooperation among international and regional actors, including under the frameworks of the 2030 Agenda and the African Union’s Agenda 2063.  Linking humanitarian and development responses in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and northern Nigeria was also critical in that regard.

YURIY VITRENKO (Ukraine) emphasized that the ultimate success or failure of peace agreements and the effectiveness of peacebuilding efforts quite often could be linked to the level of engagement of women in those processes.  In many places in Africa, conflict and crises were accompanied by devastating upsurges of violence against women and girls.  The persistent use of sexual violence as a weapon of war in conflicts on the continent left lasting scars on communities and societies.  Discussing sexual violence, sexual slavery, forced marriage, as well as physical and psychological abuse could be devastating, he said, yet such conversations were essential to gaining a better understanding of how to support survivors of conflict-related sexual violence.  Ensuring accountability for those who committed crimes of sexual violence was equally important; not only for carrying out justice, but also for helping societies to break cycles of conflict.

LUIS BERMÚDEZ (Uruguay), voicing support for the joint mission, said such initiatives were highly useful for better understanding the plight of women in conflicts and raising their profile, and could complement the work of the Council’s Informal Expert Group on Women, Peace and Security, which his country co-chaired along with Sweden.  Noting that his delegation was deeply troubled by the use of abduction and sexual violence, as well as female suicide bombers, by terrorist groups in northern Nigeria, he said combating violent extremist, restoring State authority and upholding human rights were critical.  In that regard, he drew attention to such strategies as cross-border judicial cooperation, assistance to victims, the provision of basic services and monitoring to ensure that sexual violence survivors were treated as victims.  In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uruguay supported all efforts to ensure the participation of women in political processes including the upcoming election, and urged the Government “to not let up” in that regard.

YASUHISA KAWAMURA (Japan) said the joint African Union-United Nations Mission had been important in closing gaps between New York and Africa in how the situation was perceived versus the reality on the ground.  Commending the recent joint mission led by the Deputy Secretary-General and encouraging others in the same vein, he said the mission had made clear that gender inequality and discrimination against women were among the root causes of conflict in both Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  “The existing conflicts will be further protracted, and peace will become more distant and fragile, if countries in the region, along with the international community, fail to protect women […] and make them participate in any peacebuilding efforts,” he said, stressing that the issue of sexual violence must be addressed first.  While the release of a group of Chibok girls in Nigeria, it was critical not to forget that many others were still held captive and used as weapons of war by terrorist groups.  He went on to emphasize the importance of elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo — which stood “at a crossroads” — and urged the country to actively involve women in such decision-making processes.

CARL SKAU (Sweden) said the women, peace and security agenda was at the heart of his country’s feminist foreign policy.  Highlighting priorities for the Council, he said sustainable peace would not be achieved without linking humanitarian, security, human rights and development efforts, and as such, the dire humanitarian situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo required greater efforts by the Government and international community to stop the violence.  Further, “nothing should be discussed about women without women”, he said, stressing that there was no shortage of women wanted to be involved in politics in that country.  Sweden welcomed local efforts to bring more women into decision-making in Nigeria, as less than 6 per cent of the seats in Parliament and the courts were held by them.  Greater efforts were needed to combat sexual and gender-based crimes, he said, recalling that in Nigeria and the Lake Chad region, survivors risked the stigma of association with insurgents.

BARLYBAY SADYKOV (Kazakhstan) said collaboration between the United Nations and the African Union must be intensified to promote sustainable development and the Paris Agreement on climate change, with an emphasize on the involvement of women and youth.  Resolution 2242 (2015) and the women, peace and security agenda must be a part of all Council activities, he said, adding that Kazakhstan would support all peace initiatives in Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and elsewhere which consisted of bottom-up as well as top-down strategies.  Full attention must be given to the dire humanitarian situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, he added, calling for an single comprehensive strategy for the region, as well as support for neighbouring countries that had kept their doors open to refugees.

WU HAITAO (China) said the threat of sexual violence required more attention from the international community through effective measures that would improve security and push relevant parties towards resolving differences through negotiation.  Integrative measures must also be put in place that would enhance the capacities of concerned countries, which bore primary responsibility for preventing sexual violence in conflict.  While providing targeted assistance, the international community should respect the sovereignty of concerned countries, as well as measures taken to address the problem.  He went on to underscore the need for greater cooperation among the Council, General Assembly, Economic and Social Council, Peacebuilding Commission and UN-Women, as well as with regional and subregional organizations.

ANNE GUEGUEN (France) said the Council must consider women’s rights, violence against women and women’s full participation in sustainable peace on a more regular and systematic basis.  “If we neglect half of humanity, we are sure to see conflicts persist,” she said, drawing attention to the Council’s open debate on women, peace and security that would take place in October.  Regarding the Democratic Republic of the Congo, she said the violence in Kasai had reached an untenable level and urged the Congolese authorities to cooperate fully with the panel of experts that the Human Rights Council set up in June.  The Secretary-General must meanwhile establish a special inquiry to shed light on the death of two experts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo sanctions committee, she said.  Turning to Nigeria, she said the security response to Boko Haram must be accompanied by a judicial response in coordination with neighbouring countries.  Concluding, she asked the Deputy Secretary-General about any planned future visits and how they might address the question of women’s rights and sexual violence.

AMR ABDELLATIF ABOULATTA (Egypt), Council President for August, spoke in his national capacity, saying his country hailed Nigeria’s efforts to address sexual violence perpetrated by Boko Haram, including rehabilitation and support programmes for female victims of that group which assisted reintegration into their communities.  Fighting sexual violence required a pooling of efforts between Nigeria and its neighbours, with full assistance from the international community. Steps in that regard must aim to assist communities to end stigmatization faced by victims and their children, he said, emphasizing that stigmatization should instead be borne by perpetrators.  He also stressed the need to counter erroneous fatwahs that suggested that rape was permissible in religious terms.

SAMSON SUNDAY ITEGBOJE (Nigeria), condemning in the strongest possible terms the abduction, trafficking and maltreatment of women and girls by extremist groups such as Boko Haram, said priority must be accorded to addressing the enabling environment and underlying root causes of conflicts, including poverty, hunger, human rights abuses, injustice, unemployment, corruption, lack of inclusiveness and impunity.  While the perpetrators of sexual violence must be held accountable, the State’s capacity to do so – and the prevalence of weak structures and institutions – must also be addressed.  “Dealing with the political economy of conflicts in a more holistic manner is crucial to finding potential remedies,” he said, noting that Nigeria had collaborated with the United Nations and other partners to enhance protection measures in the face of the threat posed by Boko Haram.  In that regard, he recalled that, in May, the country had launched a revised national action plan for the implementation of Council resolution 1325 (2000) and related resolutions, committing the Government to protecting women and girls during armed conflicts and enhancing their active and direct participation in conflict prevention and peacebuilding. 

Describing other initiatives ranging from the de-radicalization of convicted terrorists to enhanced efforts to secure the release of the remaining abducted Chibok girls, he said the Government was also working to help those already released to regain their self-esteem and return to their families and schools.  In addition, Nigeria had put in place legal remedies for victims of Boko Haram terrorism, especially crimes of abduction, rape and other sexual violence against children.  Outlining Nigeria’s national and international commitments on that front, he said it had established the National Human Rights Commission to protect and enforce human rights in general.  Despite all those measures, Nigeria was aware of the challenges it faced and the work that remained to be done, and had established on 5 August the Judicial Commission to investigate human rights abuses committed by military personnel in the country, he said.

Ms. MOHAMMED, responding to those comments and questions, said the joint mission had been intended to “put life into” Council resolutions 1325 (2000) and 2242 (2015) and explore ways to make investments in the 2030 Agenda a reality.  It had demonstrated the particular importance of Sustainable Development Goals 16 and 17 on institutions and partnerships, respectively, she said, adding that the international community should consider what kinds of investments could be made up front in order to bridge the gap between reality and aspirations.  “We’re working to change the narrative,” she said, noting that the mission represented a new effort to address the most vulnerable segments of the population.  Going forward, such missions would be conducted, not just in Africa, but in many regions in an effort to bring to light the complexities facing the women, peace and security agenda around the world.  Noting that international organizations risked losing credibility if they did not follow up such missions with concrete commitments, she said the distribution of food in camps for displaced persons should be carried out by women, not men, and urged the United Nations to take real action to impact people’s lives.

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