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For several years, Belgium has paid particular attention to the links between political, security and humanitarian aspects of crises. That is why, since 2018, our country has been organising an event on this theme during each High Level Week, in collaboration with ECHO. In 2021, the focus was on children in armed conflict, and in 2020, on the humanitarian impact of climate change in countries in conflict.
This year's theme is the fight against impunity for sexual violence in conflict situations. In doing so, Belgium once again links a universal theme such as international humanitarian law with current events, in Ukraine and in other parts of the world. Belgium has also consistently called for accountability for sexual violence in the Syrian conflict.
Hadja Lahbib, Minister of Foreign Affairs: “Whether it is girls or boys who were raped in Ukraine or the Central African Republic, had to become sex slaves for Daesh, or mothers who gave birth to their child after suffering violence - the survivors each have their own horrific story. What they need are tailor-made solutions. They need justice above all, but also access to health care, psychosocial or socio-economic support, or reparations to reintegrate into society. We must give them that. Belgium's commitment goes beyond putting the issue on the agenda of the General Assembly this week. Our country is leading the fight against impunity by contributing significantly to the resources of organisations that make a difference - through the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the International Criminal Court or the UN Expert Team on the Rule of Law and Sexual Violence in Conflict."
The international community has already taken steps to strengthen the legislative framework, as well as to bring perpetrators to justice. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, adopted in 1998, is the first instrument of international criminal law to explicitly include crimes of sexual violence. The International Criminal Court condemned sexual crimes committed in the Democratic Republic of Congo for the first time in 2021.
Yet the vast majority of reported cases remain unpunished and victims are deprived of justice. Therefore, early collection and careful preservation of evidence by both judicial and human rights actors is a priority. In addition to a push for accountability and justice for perpetrators, Belgium also wants prevention, protection and assistance for victims to be improved. It is therefore important to address the root causes of sexual violence and push for gender equality and women's participation in decision-making.
Antonia Mulwey of Legal Action Worldwide, Natalia Kanem, Executive Director of UNFPA, Pramila Patten, UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, and Kim Seelinger, Special Adviser on Sexual Violence in Conflict of the International Criminal Court, will be part of an expert panel on the aforementioned topics. The ministerial side event will be concluded by Joyce Msuya, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator at the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
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