September 28, 2021

UNSC Open debate on “Sexual Violence in Conflict”

Written statement submitted by Cyprus to the United Nations Security Council open debate on “Sexual Violence in Conflict” – New York, 14 April 2021

This statement complements that of the European Union and offers some concrete suggestions towards combating sexual violence in conflict.

The prohibition of rape and other forms of sexual violence by customary international law, in both international and non-international armed conflicts, as well as the wide recognition of such acts as war crimes since the first codification of the laws of war in early military manuals, and as crimes against humanity in current international legal practice, provides a strong framework for combating sexual violence in conflict. The fact that sexual violence continues to be prevalent as a weapon of war and humiliation points to non-implementation as one of our biggest failures. In addition to non-implementation, impunity can only be perceived by perpetrators as a shield. Having experienced aggression and conflict, Cyprus is well aware of the profound scars of sexual violence on women and girls and how these scars are compounded by impunity.

The UNSC has an indispensable role to play. First and foremost, it must do better in upholding the prohibition of the use of force. It can contribute to improved monitoring and implementation of relevant international obligations, which it must accompany with repercussions for states and non-state actors who fail to uphold them. It should sanction perpetrators and routinely refer situations where atrocity crimes have been committed to the International Criminal Court. The Council should also reject peace agreements that confer amnesties for atrocity crimes, including sexual violence and other gender related crimes. Further, the Council should enhance the mandate of peacekeeping operations regarding the protection of civilians to i) prevent sexual and gender-based violence and ii) report such crimes. Peacekeeping operations could also assist the host country, without prejudice to its primary responsibility to protect civilians, with the collection of evidence, particularly in areas where the host government does not exercise effective control.

We also need to step up our efforts as States. Sexual violence in conflict cannot be addressed in isolation, nor can it be separated from the status of women and the deeply rooted gender inequalities afflicting them. The fact that patriarchy is still deeply rooted in our societies leaves women and girls vulnerable to different forms of discrimination and violence. So does the fact that the security sector continues to be male dominated and often permeated by a culture of toxic masculinity. Many victims of sexual violence are left behind, without proper access to sexual and reproductive health care following their ordeal, and without adequate psychosocial support. In addition, their chances of seeing any kind of justice or perpetrators held accountable are negligible. Access to sexual and reproductive health, rehabilitation and reparation for victims, in line with their sexual and reproductive rights, should be enacted as an obligation by States. SRHR should also crystallize further as an international obligation for States. National jurisdictions should ensure that no statute of limitations exists for such crimes and special prosecutors should be appointed within national criminal justice systems to prosecute SGBV during and post conflict. States should also hold their military commanders accountable for their own compliance and that of their subordinate combatants.

Lastly, international actors, including the ICRC, international and regional organisations, as well as UN and other peacekeeping operations should assist the host State in the fight against impunity by facilitating the collection of evidence and the administration of justice.