The U.N. secretary general’s special representative on sexual violence, Zainab Bangura, has declared the sexual violence prevalent in today’s world conflicts as a global moral crisis. Speaking about the stories relayed to her from victims on the front lines of ISIS-held areas in Iraq and Syria, Bangura admitted the accounts of suffering and sexual violence took a personal toll on her, despite her lengthy and intensive experience of working within war-torn countries. As incidents of rape and kidnapping escalate in areas of conflict, Bangura spoke of the moral obligation the world has to protect the innocent women and young girls caught up in war zones, adding that the U.N. is also concerned about the increasing number of sexually violent crimes being committed against men and boys.
The U.N. has always taken a tough stance against military groups which use rape and sexual abuse against citizens in conflict zones, and has implemented policies to bring an end to the practice. “Sexual violence has been used as a designation criterion for country-specific sanction committees,” Bangura stated in an interview on June 4, adding that “we have the tools required to fight this scourge.” However, she was quick to admit that the emergence of extremist groups, such as ISIS, ISIL and Boko Haram, is considerably more challenging for the U.N. to deal with. “The crimes committed by these groups are unprecedented and extremely sophisticated,” she said, stating that sexual violence is often used to manipulate victims during the processes of intelligence gathering and recruitment.
Another issue the U.N. is having to combat regarding sexual violence during conflict is the stigma attached to victims after the crime. Whereas perpetrators of such crimes are usually able to walk away unpunished, victims often find themselves ostracized by their families and their communities. “Victims, irrespective of age, gender, religion or sex are always stigmatized,” Bungaru said.
U.N. representative Bangura’s statement declaring sexual violence a global, moral crisis comes exactly one year after the launch of the Time To Act: End Sexual Violence in Conflict campaign. Launched in June 2014, the campaign was supported by U.N. Special Envoy and actress Angelina Jolie at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict held in London. With her co-chair, the then-Foreign Secretary of Britain, William Hague, Jolie welcomed representatives from over 100 countries to the event, which aimed to address sexual violence in conflict zones and create an international protocol for investigating and documenting such crimes.
In supporting the aims of the summit, the U.N. released a statement that not only pledged to offer more support and after-care for victims, but to also “shatter the culture of impunity for those who commit these crimes,” and to bring those responsible to justice. The U.N. pledge, called the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, was endorsed by a total of 122 countries. The U.N. has identified no less than eight countries in dire need of their support. While six of the eight countries are in Africa, including Sudan, South Sudan and the Central African Republic, the office hastened to add that sexual violence in conflict is a global moral issue.
Speaking to BBC radio, Bangura said she was so affected by the eyewitness accounts of sexual violence committed by ISIS in Syria and Iraq that she had to turn to her faith to help her recover from the traumatizing ordeal. “It is an affront to me as a woman, it is an affront to me as a Muslim,” Sierra-Leone born Bangura said, adding that she found the accounts so harrowing she was compelled to board a plane to Mecca and pray in the Holy Mosque. In speaking out and declaring sexual violence in conflict a global, moral crisis, the U.N. representative hopes to be able to fulfill her promise to the women affected and find a way to keep them safe.
By Alison Klippenstein
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Gov UK: Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict (Archived)
United Nations: 122 countries endorse historic ‘Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict’
Photo Courtesy of UN Geneva, Photo by Jean-Marc Ferré – Creative Commons License
In Line Photo Courtesy of Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License