Secretary-General's Message to the Wilton Park Conference on Women Targeted or Affected by Armed Conflict

Date: 27 May 2008

The following message from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was delivered at the opening of the Wilton Park Conference, "Women Targeted or Affected by Armed Conflict: What Role for Military Peacekeepers?" on 27 May 2008.

"This Conference, which brings together key government, policy, military, police, non-governmental and diplomatic players as well as representatives of UN entities engaged on this issue, can serve as an important step forward in our efforts to identify how the United Nations can more effectively prevent and respond to sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict settings where its peacekeepers are deployed.

"Peacekeepers today face increasingly complex challenges in their efforts to protect civilians caught in conflict. The nature and conduct of fighting itself has changed, with civilians increasingly targeted by deliberate attacks. In a number of ongoing conflicts, armed groups are intentionally using sexual violence on a large scale against female civilians. This atrocious and reprehensible method of warfare is being used with shocking frequency and brutality.

"We know from grim experience how sexual violence in conflict wreaks devastation on individuals, families, communities and entire societies. Violence against women damages the very heart of the nation and severely hampers its ability to rebuild. Widespread and systematic sexual violence further heightens insecurity. There are consequences on recovery and reconciliation. When alleged perpetrators are not prosecuted and brought to justice, the rule of law is undermined and impunity reigns.

"Earlier this year, I launched a major, worldwide campaign to eliminate all forms of violence against women, including this horrific sexual abuse in conflict.

"Achieving this requires national authorities to take the lead in developing and carrying out a comprehensive strategy to address the causes, kinds and consequences of sexual and gender-based violence in conflict. For our part, the United Nations is ready and eager to help Member States in meeting this challenge.

"For the strategy to succeed, it must include action to raise awareness about the specific risks faced by women in conflict. And it must involve effective security measures, including training national military and police forces so that they can prevent and respond to sexual violence. Independent monitoring of the human rights situation is critical to ensuring an objective assessment. And all alleged perpetrators must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

"As part of this strategy, military peacekeepers can play a critical role preventing and responding to systematic sexual and gender-based violence perpetrated by armed groups. Your discussions in the coming days will consider current efforts being made on the ground by military peacekeepers, including the use of fuel and wood patrols, the provision of security around camps for displaced people and refugees, and the increased deployment of women peacekeepers.

"For our part, the United Nations remains committed to a zero-tolerance policy against sexual exploitation or abuse. This means zero complacency. When we receive credible allegations, we ensure that they are looked into fully. And it means zero impunity; when allegations are found to have merit, all personnel — whether military, police or civilians — are held accountable based on applicable national jurisdictions.

"More broadly, I am strongly committed to ensuring progress in our efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women. And so I thank you for your dedication to this issue and encourage you to commit to practical and concrete initiatives that will boost the effectiveness of military peacekeepers to prevent and respond to systematic sexual violence, both during armed conflicts and in their aftermath."