Remarks by Ambassador Samantha Power, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, at a Security Council Debate on Sexual Violence in Conflict, April 25, 2014

Samantha Power
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations 
New York, NY, United States
April 25, 2014



Thank you Madame President, thank you Mr. Secretary General, Special Representative Bangura, and Ms. Misaka for your informative and powerful briefings.

In the past decade, the Security Council has identified the scourge of sexual violence in conflict as a matter of acute and urgent concern. We meet today to assess progress in combating this pernicious form of criminality and to consider next steps. We begin with confidence that the standards we have established are clear, and the terrible knowledge that these standards are regularly ignored. We have made abundantly clear that there should be zero tolerance for rape and zero tolerance for other forms of sexual abuse in all circumstances and at all times. The terror of sexual violence is uniquely horrific and merits our continued and determined efforts to eliminate it. Neither the fog of war nor the associated breakdown of law provide any explanation or excuse for actions that violate the rights and disrespect the fundamental dignity of human beings.

To articulate a zero tolerance standard of course is not difficult. Indeed, we have done it many times. But to endow it with real meaning in real conflicts remains a challenge of great urgency and one of many dimensions. This is not work that should be delegated only to a Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence – even one as capable as Special Representative Bangura – or to Women’s Protection Advisors in a peacekeeping mission or to UN Women. These offices and officials, and the UN as a whole, assuredly have an indispensable role to play, but the key to further progress in reducing suffering and protecting the vulnerable is action by parties to conflict. Every government has a responsibility to establish standards, to develop institutions, and to pursue policies that protect its people from sexual violence, whether perpetrated by the government’s own forces or by others. This responsibility includes, as Special Representative Bangura just put it, redirecting the stigma from the survivors to the perpetrators. This duty extends to men and boys, who have suffered sexual violence to an extent we have only recently begun to appreciate in places like Colombia, where boys were turned into sex slaves by illegal armed groups; in Rutshuru in the DRC, which was under savage M23 control for much of 2013; and in Libya, where the UN reported armed brigades used rape in detention as a form of torture. In far too many countries, the victims of sexual violence still have little, if any, effective legal recourse. Until that changes, predators will not be deterred, victims will hesitate to come forward, and justice will remain beyond reach.

In places where governments are weak, we must help to improve their capabilities, while also holding accountable those who commit crimes. Among the most culpable are the ruthless militias in the Central African Republic, whose assaults on civilians have almost literally torn the country apart and where rape, forced marriage, and sexual slavery are widespread. In Burma, where there are widespread reports of soldiers raping women and girls. And, as we’ve just heard, in South Sudan where, just this week, militants have gone on radio - which my Rwandan colleague has called an evil multiplier - to incite the use of sexual violence against named ethnic groups. In Yemen, where child protection workers have verified the abduction and abuse of boys by Ansar Al-Shari’a. With all of this in mind, we must express special outrage at the continued and widespread incidence of sexual abuse practiced by Syrian government armed forces as part of the regime’s ruthless campaign to terrorize civilians and drive families from their homes.

Despite chronic under-reporting and difficulties of access, we do know more about the nature and scope of the problem than ever before. The Secretary General’s report, the information collection mechanisms on which it is based, and the steadfast leadership shown by Special Representative Bangura are all welcome developments.

In addressing sexual violence, the UN must set the right example in what it does both here in New York and in places around the world where tensions are high and UN peacekeepers or political missions are deployed. Special Representative Bangura has shown determination in coordinating UN efforts across agencies to ensure that the imperative of stopping sexual violence is addressed in training, included in mission mandates and reports, is a central focus of enforcement activities, and is a major part of holding perpetrators accountable for war crimes and crimes against humanity. As members of this Security Council though, we must do our part by exercising proper oversight and pushing for full implementation of the objectives we set - mission by mission.

In this connection, I note that Women Protection Advisers were deployed last year to Somalia and Mali and are expected this year in Sudan, South Sudan, Cote d’Ivoire, and the Central African Republic. In Somalia, the UN has helped to train 12,000 police officers and the government has supported increased recruitment of women police. An improved effort has also been made to strengthen investigative and prosecutorial capabilities in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where sexual violence perpetrated by government and rebel forces has long been a source of chronic and massive injustice. We must strive, as well, to help the Secretariat achieve its goal of twenty percent female participation among UN police. But for this to happen, each of our countries must ourselves increase recruitment of women police into our domestic forces so that there is a far broader pool on which the UN can draw. We must also insist on enforcing the absolute prohibition on sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers. Again this requires home countries to hold perpetrators of sexual violence accountable once they are sent home.

In closing, let me voice the strong support of my government and the American people for a concerted strategy across the globe to address the problem of sexual violence both in and outside situations of combat. For far too long such abuses have been treated as part of the spoils of victory or the rewards of physical might. Let us be clear. Sexual abuse is among the worst of crimes, because it robs people of the precious and inalienable right to be secure in their bodies and because it is inflicted out of cruelty. In our effort to stop it, we have made gains in recent years, but we have a very long way to go. Thank you.


PRN: 2014/087