Statement by Minister of Foreign Affairs Espen Barth Eide
This renewed commitment is timely. The systematic use of sexual violence and rape in Syria has been documented by the UN Commission of Inquiry as well as human rights organisations, but it is not getting proper attention and impunity prevails.
What can we do to bring the world’s attention to these crimes in Syria and in many other parts of the world?
What can we do to prevent new atrocities from taking place?
Firstly, these crimes must be punished. Too often, sexual violence in conflicts is dismissed as “cultural” or a “tradition”.
Let us be clear. Conflict-related sexual violence is criminal. Even in wars, there are rules – rules that all parties to the conflict are bound by. And rape in war is explicitly illegal.
We need to remind the perpetrators that they stand the risk of prosecution, under either national or international law. Ensuring justice for the survivors can also have a preventive effect, as effective prosecution can deter future crimes. In the situation today where impunity prevails, perpetrators face very little risk.
National governments in conflict-affected countries bear the responsibility for upholding the law and protecting their citizens, whether from more conventional weapons or from rape as a tactic of war. Too often, they fail to do so.
Let us give a clear message to those who have the power to enforce troop discipline and uphold justice but who choose not to. We must expect and demand more from them.
If we are serious about making a difference, conflict-related sexual violence must be integrated into our broader security efforts and discourse. It must be on the agenda of the Security Council on a regular basis, it must be raised in bilateral and multilateral meetings, not just at side-events and on special occasions.
The large troop- and police-contributing countries to UN peace operations play an important role in preventing and protecting civilians from sexual violence on the ground. But we must all start at home, and make sure that we effectively implement UN Security Council resolution 1325 and the related resolutions on women, peace and security. When I was Minister of Defence, I initiated a series of studies on the culture of masculinity and the military and actively pursued the goal of greater diversity in our armed forces.
Improving gender relations is not just about adding more women to male-dominated arenas. Changing gender relations is about improving our society for both men and women. This change must start at home. It is not just an issue for conflict-affected countries.
Conflict-related sexual violence is a security issue and a crime. And the international community must respond with the same sense of urgency as it does to other threats against peace and security.
We must also work closely with civil society and build strong and viable women’s organisations. Women in the midst of or aftermath of conflicts are more than just rape victims. They are certain to have some thoughts about what they need and how we can best assist them.