Ambassador David Pressman
Alternate Representative to the UN for Special Political Affairs
Thank you, Mr. President, for chairing this important meeting. And let me also express my thanks to Assistant Secretary-General Kang, Ms. Durham of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and Ms. Elman of the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security for your informative and moving briefings and your tireless work on this important subject.
Shortly after the Secretary-General released his report on Women, Peace, and Security last year, ISIS released a document of its own: a pamphlet of rules about how jihadists should handle trafficked women and girls, including those sold into sexual slavery.
In recent weeks, the al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front released a video that appears to depict a woman, arms seemingly bound behind her back, kneeling while a man declares that she has been convicted of adultery by an Islamic court. The video then shows this woman being summarily shot in the head by a man who, himself, is clad in body armor.
Last year, ISIL released its own video that appears to depict a young woman being stoned to death in the presence of her father. In the final moments of the video, she is seen begging her father for forgiveness. She is then led to a hole dug in the earth, surrounded by men who throw stones at her. The young woman, in what would be some of her final words, offers this advice to women: “protect your honor more than your lives.”
“Protect your honor more than your lives.”
The unique horror confronted by women and girls in conflict is as chilling as it is urgent. While conflict does not discriminate on the basis of gender, it does disproportionately affect those who are marginalized, vulnerable, or oppressed. And in too many societies around the world, for too long, women and girls have been marginalized, vulnerable, or oppressed. If we care about addressing the problems encountered by women and girls in wartime, we must be prepared to address the enduring problems of discrimination and inequality of women in peacetime.
As the Secretary-General documented in his 2014 report on Women, Peace and Security, the threats facing women and children in conflict are worsening, not improving, in many parts of the world. We can and we must work together to turn this tide.
Defenders of women’s human rights are increasingly targeted. Efforts to silence people like Razan Zeitouneh in Syria and Salwa Bugaighis in Libya are efforts to silence hope, curtail progress, impede justice, and infringe upon the dignity of women not just in Syria and in Libya, but around the world.
We know that refugees and displaced persons are mostly women and children. And we know that they suffer disproportionately from sexual and gender-based violence. In eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, the continued presence of armed groups amid an increasing number of displaced persons and refugee has led to shocking cruelty and rampant sexual violence. In one of the most devastating incidents, at least 387 people – including 300 women and 55 girls – were raped by armed groups in 13 villages in Eastern Congo between July 30th and August 2nd, 2010. 387 rape victims in three days.
In the face of this kind of destabilizing cruelty and grotesque violence, this Council has mandated peacekeeping missions in places like the DRC with the very difficult and very important work of protecting civilians. Indeed, 98% of UN troops now serve in missions with mandates to protect civilians.
Yet, again and again, there is a gap between what we say must happen and what actually does. We have seen peacekeeping missions fail to implement their mandates to protect civilians, creating a substantial gap between principle and practice, between mandates and implementation. The United Nations’ Office of Internal Oversight Services report found that in 507 attacks against civilians from 2010 to 2013, UN peacekeepers virtually never used force to protect civilians under attack. Thousands of civilians, countless women and children among them, may have lost their lives as a result.
UN peacekeeping missions must do better when they are given a mandate to protect civilians in desperate need of protection. And that means, we must, at a minimum, work to improve early warning systems, especially for sexual violence, to help peacekeepers identify potential threats and take preventative action. Continued shortfalls staffing critical peacekeeping missions in South Sudan, Mali and the Central African Republic have left civilians, and particularly women and girls, vulnerable.
And when peacekeepers themselves become a part of the problem of sexual and gender-based violence, rather than a solution to it, it is our fundamental responsibility – indeed, it is a moral imperative – that we collectively ensure they are held accountable in a transparent and swift manner.
The Security Council also must do more. It is easy enough for us to agree in an open debate in this Chamber that protecting women and girls in conflict is important – I mean, can anyone really disagree? But when called upon to act, too often we are too slow or too silent. When reports emerge of an alleged mass-rape in Darfur and active obstruction by the host government of the peacekeeping mission’s ability to investigate becomes clear, this Council has an obligation to act. And yet, too often we do not. This must change, as our credibility depends on it, victims need it, and justice demands it.
We are making modest progress and there have been some developments in our collective efforts. Of nine United Nations peacekeeping operations cited in the latest Secretary-General report, nearly 70% of their military strategic concepts of operations include specific measures to protect the human rights of women and girls. More and more missions are providing more robust gender and conflict analysis in their reporting, but much remains to be done to link analysis and reporting to actionable recommendations, and actionable recommendations to actual action.
Largely due to the work of organizations like those present today, consideration for the risks confronted by women and girls face are now being integrated into peace agreements. In 2013, more than half of all peace agreements signed included references to women, peace and security. The number of cease-fire agreements that include sexual violence as a prohibited act has tripled compared to only three agreements with such provisions signed prior to 2012.
Here, too, at the United Nations, there is work to be done. Women should not only be participating in peacekeeping operations, they should be leading them. While three women lead peace operations as SRSGs – one as force commander and one as an acting head – women head only 19% of all UN field missions. And while we welcome the deployment of three all-female UN police units in Liberia, Haiti, and the DRC, we recognize that 97% of military troops and 90% of police personnel in UN missions are men. If we are serious about expanding opportunity for women everywhere, we must expand opportunity for women right here.
Expanding opportunity and empowering women in peacetime is essential to tackling the unique problems women confront in wartime. After all, the best protection from sexual violence in conflict that targets women and girls is building societies where women and girls are respected; have equal access to justice, educational opportunities and health care services; societies where women enjoy equal protection under the law and equal access to political space. The best protection, to borrow the final words of the woman slaughtered in ISIL’s gruesome video, is the difficult and imperative work of building societies that value women’s lives and minds and potential as much as their honor.
Thank you, Mr. President.