International Day on Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict - The importance of a survivor-centred approach, accountability and tackling the root causes

Exactly six years ago today, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly declared June 19 the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict. On this day the international community is reminded of its collective responsibility to continue to fight against rape, sexual slavery, forced marriages, certain forms of human trafficking and any other form of conflict related sexual violence. Belgium also calls for special attention to be paid to the women, men and children who survived such violence, and pays tribute to those who are committed to stopping it.

In recent years, the international community has taken important steps to address the problem of conflict-related sexual violence. The taboo is broken, the impact on international security is recognised and more attention is being paid to the victims. For the past year, however, the UN has again reported a large number of cases of sexual violence in zones of conflict and post-conflict in some 20 countries. The COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbates the situation. Indeed, in many places the crisis has led to a reduction in social control and more difficult access to assistance or judicial authorities. Today's situation calls for additional efforts and renewed commitment.

"The tackling of root causes of sexual violence, including structural gender inequality, clearly needs to be improved," said Minister Goffin. "We need to pay even more attention to the survivors. Whether it's boys raped in the Central African Republic, sex slaves from Boko Haram or mothers of children born from violence - they each have their own story and their own challenges. These require adapted solutions. Their rights, needs and resilience must be given priority in conflict and post-conflict situations". Lessons need to be learned from the experiences of the victims. Also to prevent other violations and to better recognise early warning indicators such as discrimination, hate speech and incitement to violence.

Stopping sexual violence against women and girls and ensuring sexual and reproductive health and rights are part and parcel of the Belgian National Action Plan Women, Peace and Security. The fight against impunity - a cornerstone of Belgium's foreign policy - is essential in this respect. "We attach great importance to the work of the UN Special Representative for Sexual Violence in Conflict. Her work is crucial in identifying perpetrators. And they need to be brought to justice," stresses Minister Goffin. "Where states refuse or are unable to bring perpetrators to justice, Belgium supports the efforts of international mechanisms, such as UNITAD in Iraq or the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism for Syria. Documenting crimes through such mechanisms is an essential step in providing justice to survivors. The International Criminal Court also plays a key role in this regard."

The UN Security Council will debate the matter next month. Belgium will reiterate the Security Council’s important role in the fight against conflict-related sexual violence. The Security Council must ensure that UN peace operations can also make a difference by protecting civilians, reporting sexual violence and deploying specialised personnel. And where perpetrators escape justice too easily and for too long, the Security Council should also make use of UN sanctions.

A decade after the first UN report on sexual violence in conflict, sustained action and relentless political pressure are still indispensable to change the situation. Reiterating a long standing commitment, Minister Goffin says: "Belgium, the European Union and the UN remain partners in this important fight."

We are happy with the large support for our candidacy during today’s vote, providing Belgium with a broad mandate from the UNGA, which is sign of confidence in our tradition of multilateral diplomacy pursuing consensus and peace.

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