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UN humanitarian chief commemorates anniversary of mandate on sexual violence in conflict

30 Oct 2019

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Women and children are often targets of sexual violence in armed conflicts. Credit: OCHA/Phil Moore

Marking the tenth anniversary today of the UN Security Council mandate on sexual violence in conflict, Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, has contributed to an upcoming report on efforts by the UN system over the past decade to combat the scourge.

The report is being produced by UN Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict (UN Action), which unites the work of 14 UN entities with the goal of ending sexual violence during and in the wake of armed conflict. The initiative is a concerted effort by the UN system to improve coordination and accountability, amplify programming and advocacy, and support national efforts to prevent sexual violence and respond effectively to the needs of survivors.

In the report, Mr. Lowcock underscores OCHA’s role in UN Action as part of the organization’s commitment to the protection of civilians.

“Like all of the Secretary-General’s leadership team who travel extensively to conflict settings, I have listened to survivors’ stories across the globe and heard their stories of hope. We need to continue listening to survivors, greatly strengthen our prevention efforts, especially by changing attitudes and behaviours, and hold perpetrators, who are overwhelmingly men, to account,” notes Mr. Lowcock.

Established in 2009, the Security Council mandate is dedicated to preventing and addressing conflict-related sexual violence, which it recognized as a threat to security and an impediment to sustainable and inclusive peace.

Mr. Lowcock’s full statement follows.

For the past decade, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which I now lead, has engaged closely with UN Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict as a critical part of our commitment to the protection of civilians (PoC). 

Drawing on inputs from crises across the globe, OCHA provides fact-based analysis for the Secretary-General’s annual reports on women, peace and security and systematically reports on preventing and addressing conflict-related sexual violence in its regular briefings to the Security Council’s Informal Expert Group on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, which makes important recommendations, including on UN mission mandate renewals. 

When I began my career in aid work 35 years ago, gender-based violence in humanitarian crises was rarely discussed. That is no longer the case. In May, more than 100 Member States joined survivors, civil society, and national and international organizations at the first donor conference on ‘Ending Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Humanitarian Crises’ in Oslo, which was co-hosted by OCHA, UNFPA, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the Governments of Norway, Somalia, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates. Member States pledged US$363 million to prevent and respond to gender-based violence, including sexual violence, in 2019 and beyond.

Yet the success of the conference was a testament to how far we need to go to prevent and address gender-based violence, which is too often a regular feature of conflict today. Like all of the Secretary-General’s leadership team who travel extensively to conflict settings, I have listened to survivors’ stories across the globe and heard their stories of hope. We need to continue listening to survivors, greatly strengthen our prevention efforts, especially by changing attitudes and behaviours, and hold perpetrators, who are overwhelmingly men, to account.

OCHA is supporting the UN system to do just that. We continue to provide policy recommendations related to the condemnation of sexual violence – and all forms of gender-based violence – and to the need for parties involved in conflict to prohibit sexual violence through clear command orders in the military ranks. OCHA has also recommended that the PoC Expert Group on Conflict-Related Sexual Violence establish time-bound and specific commitments from Member States or their full implementation of relevant Action Plans, accountability measures and action to ensure survivors are able to access and receive relevant services.

OCHA is also fully committed to strengthening our efforts to prioritize gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, including advancing commitments to women’s meaningful participation, leadership and decision-making in humanitarian planning and response, and to increasing resources to local women’s organizations.

OCHA stands with the entire humanitarian community to do all that we can to end sexual violence and all forms of gender-based violence in conflict.