UNITED NATIONS — Women and girls — but also men and boys — living in areas beset by war fall victim to predatory acts of sexual violence in conflict zones all over the world, UN officials said Monday.
“The report before us shows that sexual violence continued to be employed as a tactic of war, a tactic of terrorism and a tool of political repression in 2017,” said Pramila Patten, the special representative of the secretary-general on sexual violence in conflict, speaking at the Security Council.
“Across a range of settings, it was used by parties to conflict to attack and alter the ethnic or religious identity of persecuted groups, and to change the very demographics of disputed regions,” the report said.
Patten and other UN officials and ambassadors commented widely on a new report issued by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that documents the scale of the practice of rape and sexual violence in war last year. The report focuses on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Colombia, Central African Republic, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Mali, Somalia and Myanmar.
Speakers such as Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed acknowledge progress, noting that some states have taken great strides to reduce the use of sexual violence among members of military and non-state actors. But they also noted with dismay some that have become more prominent on the list of nations with the unsavory distinction, such as Myanmar.
Since August, the country’s Rohingya minority has been subject to a near-scorched-earth campaign of displacement and violence, experts have said, with rape and sexual violence being used as weapons, as well as the burning down of villages and other forms of physical brutality.
“I speak today on behalf of my people, who have been driven from our motherland,” said Razia Sultana, an attorney and activist with Rohingya Women Welfare, as she spoke to the Council. “My own research and interviews provide evidence that government troops raped well over 300 women and girls in 17 villages in Rakhine State. With over 350 villages attacked and burned since August 2017, this number is likely only a fraction of the actual total number of women raped.”
She said as many as 670,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar for Bangladesh since tensions exploded between them and the majority Buddhists of Myanmar and that women and girls have been “gang-raped, tortured and killed by the Myanmar army for no other reason than being Rohingya.”
Speakers said that the victims of sexual violence often endure a heavy stigma despite having no responsibility over what had occurred to them. The children of rapes by occupying forces struggle to gain full citizenship and cast off pariah status in the societies where they are born.
The 35-page report documents both patterns and highlights some of the more disturbing cases, such as the uptick in cases in DRC, which saw “804 cases of conflict-related sexual violence, affecting 507 women, 265 girls, 30 men and 2 boys.”
It also noted 53 cases of sexual violence against women and girls in Afghanistan; and 308 incidents of conflict-related sexual violence, affecting 155 women, 138 girls, 13 men and 2 boys in Central African Republic.
Militant groups seeking to commit acts of terror have often committed sexual violence. In Iraq, thousands of Yazidi women were abducted and turned into sexual slaves for members of Islamic State during the group’s siege of northern Iraq in 2014. Last year, after the Islamic State was ousted from the area as the jihadist group dissolved, the UN reported among the cases it could document were forced marriages to Islamic State fighters for girls and abduction for boys.
In two disturbing examples from the country in 2017, a 16-year-old boy was held by a suspected member of Islamic State, who severely beat his genitals, and a 14-year-old boy was raped for three consecutive nights in a training camp.
The report also noted that no members of Islamic State or Boko Haram, an affiliate operating in western Africa, have been prosecuted.
“The children born of rape are often ostracized and relegated to the margins of society,” Mohammed said. “This highlights yet again that, in the end, sexual violence has consequences for all affected — women and girls, men and boys. It is a deliberate tactic to humiliate and disempower, and undermines social cohesion. Our responsibility must be to bring justice, recognition and reparations to the survivors of these horrendous crimes.”