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Opening Remarks of SRSG Patten at the Global Survivors Fund Event: Reparations for Survivors of Conflict-Related Sexual Violence: Status and Prospects, 27 September 2021

OSRSG Sexual Violence in Conflict
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Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

We meet today with the knowledge that reparations are what survivors of conflict-related sexual violence request most, and yet still receive least. Today’s meeting demonstrates a shared commitment to closing the accountability and reparations gap, as a central pillar of victim assistance, as well as prevention and deterrence. In this respect, the work of the Global Survivors Fund, spearheaded by Nobel Laureates Dr. Denis Mukwege and Ms. Nadia Murad, has great potential to improve lives and livelihoods, alleviate stigma, and facilitate socioeconomic reintegration. I am pleased to serve as a member of the Strategic Advisory Committee of the Fund, in my capacity as holder of the Security Council mandate on sexual violence in conflict.

In 2005, the United Nations General Assembly declared that victims of grave violations of international human rights and humanitarian law have the right to a remedy and reparation. This includes victims and survivors of conflict-related sexual violence. In 2019, the Security Council adopted resolution 2467, which called for a survivor-centered approach to inform all prevention and response measures, including holistic survivor-centered transitional justice, which addresses root causes and provides for transformative reparations. Such reparations are a critical contribution to restoring peace and security in the aftermath of grave crimes.

Criminal justice is necessary in the wake of wartime rape, sexual slavery, forced marriage and other atrocities, but it is not sufficient. Survivors often suffer physical and psychological trauma that requires urgent treatment, as well as disrupted educational and employment opportunities. Survivors face stigma in their families and communities, which compound these harms and prevent many from coming forward to access care.

Too often, survivors are twice victimized: once by the crime itself, and again by the system that fails to respond. Too often, the perpetrators walk free, while the survivors walk in shame and fear. As our latest annual report to the Security Council attests: While reparations have been judicially awarded in many cases, they generally remain unpaid, leaving victims empty-handed, even as arms and revenue flow into the hands of the perpetrators and those in power.

As wars grind on, they grind down the hopes of entire generations, including children born of rape. My Office has been mandated to produce a special report on this subject to address the neglect and knowledge gap that hampers our response, and to ensure specific attention is paid to this voiceless category of victims, who risk being relegated to the shadows of society, marginalized, undocumented, and sometimes left stateless. Children conceived through rape and their mothers face unique and pronounced challenges in societies polarized by war. It is this destruction of the individual and community that makes sexual violence so cheap and effective as a tactic of war and terror – and why reparations are an essential part of reconciliation and peacebuilding. Indeed, of all the transitional justice mechanisms, reparations are the most directly able to make a difference in the lives of those affected. They must be extended to reach traditionally excluded victims, such as children born of rape, men and boys, refugees and IDPs, and others whose very survival may depend on interim relief.

Although the crime of sexual violence can never adequately be compensated, transformative reparations elevate the survivor and their family from victims to rights-holders. Reparative measures can both provide independence to the individual and help re-establish ties to family and community. Reparations go beyond compensation and rehabilitation to include guarantees of non-repetition, which can help to prevent and deter sexual violence so that succeeding generations may be spared this scourge. Indeed, my mandate is developing a prevention framework that aims to make guarantees of non-repetition a reality through legislative, security sector, and other institutional reforms.

Further research is needed, including actionable recommendations from survivors themselves, to co-create solutions with those directly affected, who know best what they need. In this respect, the Global Reparations Study, being launched by the Global Survivors Fund today, gives us an “at-a-glance” snapshot of the status of reparations in countries of critical concern, as a basis for advocacy, cross-country learning, and the replication of good practice. As the United Nations, we stand ready to support Member States in implementing reparatory measures through technical assistance, while at the same time continuing to advocate with governments and duty-bearers to meet their responsibilities. We report regularly on progress and gaps in this regard to the Security Council and relevant Sanctions Committees. My mandate, including the Team of Experts on the Rule of Law and Sexual Violence in Conflict, and the interagency network I chair, UN Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict, comprised of twenty UN entities, have provided technical, programmatic, and financial resources to reparation programming in the field. We will continue to work side by side and shoulder to shoulder with all those who seek to provide reparations and relief to survivors of conflict-related sexual violence. Tragically, however, threats, attacks, reprisals and restrictions on victims, witnesses, healthcare workers, and civil society organizations continue to impede these vital, life-saving efforts. As one survivor from Myanmar reported to my Office: “I have not received justice or any reparation. On the contrary, I have been threatened with death for telling the truth”.

I therefore urge the international community to ensure that protection and assistance for victims of sexual violence and those supporting them on the frontlines are part of their political engagements, humanitarian interventions, and programmatic assistance in the wake of war. I thank the Member States that already make important contributions to this Fund, and programmes on sexual violence in conflict more broadly, and look forward to hearing from them today. Together, we must find ways to accelerate action and help survivors realize their right to effective reparations and redress. This is the only way to ensure that transitional justice is truly transformative justice.

Thank you.