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Sierra Leone News : Zainab Bangura Wins Hillary Clinton Award
By Benjamin Davies
Mar 7, 2016, 12:12
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One of Sierra Leone’s most outstanding women of her generation Haja Dr. Zainab Hawa Bangura has once again brought laurels to herself, her family and her Nation by being named the winner of the prestigious 2016 Hillary Rodham Clinton Award for Advancing Women in Peace & Security

On accepting the award in Washington DC last month, Dr. Zainab Bangura gave a brilliant speech that covered not only her years as an activist leading the push to remove a brutal military junta, but which also encompassed other aspects of her life journey. Dr. Bangura who is currently the points person in the global community for sexual crimes in war, also took her time to detail the horrors faced by women caught up in conflicts around the world.

Please see her full statement below.

Remarks of SRSG Zainab Hawa Bangura. “Sexual Violence in Conflict:

A Global Security Threat”. 2016 Hillary Rodham Clinton Award.

For Advancing Women in Peace & Security. 22 February 2016, 4:05 – 4:25 [20mins]. Georgetown University, Washington D.C.

Dr. John DeGioia, President of Georgetown University,

Ambassador Melanne Verveer, Director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security,

Ms. Alissa Rubin of The New York Times,

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon.

On behalf of the United Nations, I am deeply honored to receive the 2016 Hillary Rodham Clinton Award for Advancing Women in Peace and Security. I would like to sincerely thank Ambassador Verveer, not only for hosting this event today, but for serving everyday as a tireless champion for this cause. I would also like to thank the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security for this opportunity to cast a spotlight on a scourge that has been called “history’s greatest silence” and the “world’s least-condemned crime of war”.

But I cannot begin without acknowledging the historic leadership of Secretary Clinton herself. In fact, my mandate, as Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, was established by the Security Council during a debate presided over by Secretary Clintonin 2009. On that occasion, she stated categorically that sexual violence “is not cultural; it is criminal and that “the challenge of sexual violence in conflict cannot and should not be separated from the broader security issues confronting the Council”.

That debate culminated in the unanimous adoption of Security Council resolution 1888, which established a new international architecture for addressing sexual violence during and in the wake of war. This included a Team of Experts on the Rule of Law, working out of my Office to support governments to strengthen institutional safeguards against impunity for these crimes. It also called for the deployment ofdedicated Women’s Protection Advisers in the field to improve monitoring, reporting and analysis as an evidence-base for action. In many ways, Secretary Clinton’s political advocacy lit the torch that my Office carries forward today.


The task conferred upon me, has been totranslategroundbreakingresolutions into solutions on the ground. I would like to take this opportunity to share some insights and experiences in addressing sexual violence as a threat to security and an impediment to peace-building, and to highlight the majorchallengesandchangesseen since the advent of my mandate in 2009.

We all know that rape in war is as old as war itself. “Rape, pillage and plunder” is the ancient trilogy of wartime terror. Historically, the issue has been framed as a “byproduct of war”, mere “collateral damage”, or simply “boys being boys”. In fact, no other human rights violation has so routinely been dismissed as “inevitable”.

Many people still believe that wartime rape happens only occasionally, as the random acts of a few renegade soldiers, in a few far-off and perilous places. Yet, the reality is that sexual violence traverses all of history and geography. The report my Office prepares annually for transmission to the Security Council spans 20 countries, and publicly lists (or “names and shames”) more than 45 State and non-State armed groups that are responsible for committing patterns of rape and other forms of sexual violence.

In contemporary theatres of conflict, women and girls find themselves under assault every day and with every step they take: whether at border crossings, checkpoints, during house searches, in detention centers, and in the very camps or settlements where they seek refuge. Women are first affected and worst affected by protracted conflict and terrorism.The current confluence of global crises – including more than 30 active armed conflicts, levels of civilian displacement not seen since the Second World War, and arguably the worst wave of terrorism on record – threatens to stall, or even reverse, the progress of recent decades towards development and human rights.

Perhaps the most dramatic illustration isSyria, wherebefore the war, primary school enrolment was almost universal; now we are witnessing a generation of children at risk of receiving no education at all, with girls being confined to their homes or married young in an attempt to “shield” them from harm. Five years of conflict have reduced this middle-income country to rubble; claimed 250,000 lives; and propelled the world’s largest refugee crisis. Many of the neighboring countries, in which more than 4 million displaced Syrians find themselves, do not allow mothers to confer their nationality upon their children; yet one-quarter of displaced households have no father present. This means that – every ten minutes – a child is born stateless. Without a birth certificate or identity papers, they are left in a legal limbo. In addition, the war has unleashed a wave of sexual violence, sexual slavery, forced marriage, forced impregnation, and trauma – both individual and collective – that will take generations to heal.

Part of my role is bearing witness to trulyunbearable crimes. The physical and psychological trauma of sexual violence is evident in all of the countries monitored by my mandate.

For instance, in South Sudan, in July 2015, military offensives by the national army, the “SPLA”, in Unity State resulted in at least 30 women and girls being raped, gang-raped and burnt alive in their huts. One survivor of this atrocity reported to the United Nations, “If you look them in the eye when they are doing it, they will kill you”. In South Sudan, the world’s newest nation, 90 per cent of disputes are settled by customary or chief’s courts, which often prescribe marriage to the perpetrator as a “remedy” for rape. These traditional authorities regard rape not as a crime, but simply as a form of “unplanned marriage”. As a local activist explained to me: “Here, we live under the rule of men, not under the rule of law”.

In Darfur, Sudan, patterns of ethnically-targeted sexual violence, as a vehicle of persecution and forced displacement, have been taking place for almost 15 years, despite the Security Council having referred the matter to the International Criminal Court a decade ago.

More than half of all sexual violence incidents in Darfur occur in the course of essential livelihood activities, such as gathering fuel and firewood. A particularly flagrant case from 2015involved the rape of a bride on the way to her wedding, in front of neighbors and friends. This shows an intention to humiliate the victim and her entire community, reinforcingtheir sense of powerlessness.

Similarly, in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, entire villages have been traumatized by mass rape, often inflicted in public for maximum humiliation. Armed groups have used women’s bodies to transmit messages of intimidation to men, namely that they are powerless to protect. More than a third of all conflict-related sexual violence victims in the DRC are internally displaced persons or refugees, and more than half of all cases involve children.

In Côte d’Ivoire, rape is still legally classified as the lesser offense of “indecent assault”. The reparations programme developed for victims of the 2011 post-electoral crisis, in which more than 150 women were raped, provides compensation to the relatives of persons killed or physically injured, but not to the victims of sexual violence, which remains an invisible crime.


In all of these settings, rape continues to also be committed by the national army and police – the very people meant to provide protection.

No single continent, culture, region or religion has a monopoly on this scourge. Widespread sexual violence has also been a driver of forced displacement during the 50-year civil war in Colombia. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, many of the women who endured systematic sexual violence in the “rape camps” of the 1990s are still waiting for justice and reparations 20 years after the peace accords were signed. The lack of official recognition and redress further entrenches the stigma attached to these crimes.

In Nepal, survivors of conflict-related sexual violence have still not been classified as “conflict-affected persons” for the purposes of receiving remedies and compensation, like other war wounded soldiers and civilians. In militarized northern Sri Lanka, women’s lives and livelihoods continue to be circumscribed by the ever-present threat of sexual assault.

In addition, children born of wartime rape, of which there are significant numbers in Bosnia, Colombia, Rwanda, the DRC, and potentially in Iraq, Nigeria and Syria, continue to live in the shadows, being rarely accepted by society, and often viewed as both a “bad memory” and a future threat.

Against this bleak backdrop, my mandate, to spearhead global efforts to end the scourge of conflict-related sexual violence, has become more urgent than ever. Over many months and years of working on this issue, it has become crystal clear to me that there can be no security without women’s security, and no peace without peace of mind for women and their families. This is why I continually call for women’s protection and empowerment to be at the heart of the global policy agenda – including the security and counter-terrorism agendas, which have classically been gender-blind. My mission is to ensure that sexual violence is no longer sidelined as a stigma to be borne in silence, but is brought into the center of international relations, foreign policy and public debate.

It is also clear to me that women’s protection is indivisible from their participation in peace, security and justice processes.Wartime rape has been an omission of history because women have never held the pen with which official records of war and peace are written. Of all the unfolding peace processes monitored by my Office, the Colombian process is the only one to address gender concerns in a serious and systematic way that exemplifies the aims of Security Council resolution 1325 and its successors. I visited the Colombian peace talks in Havana in March 2015 and called upon the parties to place gender justice and the eradication of conflict-related sexual violence at the centre of the process. To date, over 2,000 survivors of sexual violence have received reparations, including economic compensation, rehabilitation, land restitution, employment opportunities and credit. Both parties have agreed that perpetrators of sexual violence will not be eligible for amnesty. This deal represents the greatest hope yet of an end to five decades of conflict. Behind the headlines, women played a vital role in these negotiations. Women on both negotiating teams ensured that victims of sexual violence were able to directly address and influence the talks.

A growing body of research has demonstrated that peace negotiations influenced by women are more likely to end in agreement and to endure.

The chances of a peace agreement lasting 15 yearsor more increases by 35 per cent when women are involved. A gender perspective also improves the delivery of humanitarian assistance, enhances the outreach and operational effectiveness of peacekeepers, and accelerates economic recovery in the wake of war. Sexual violence, however,can have a chilling effect on women’s ability to participate in political, economic and social life, as drivers of progress and agents of change. In conflict-affected settings such as Libya, high-profile women from a range of professionshave been targeted for sexual harassment and humiliation in order to silence them. Harassment has even precluded women from joining the security sector,in places like Afghanistanwhere they are desperately needed.


Over the past five years, we have seen a dramatic evolution in the seriousness accorded to conflict-related sexual violence, including by security stakeholders, military institutions and armed groups. While it is impossible to quantify the human toll of this violence, through better monitoring and reporting, the world has woken-up to the magnitude of these crimes, including their security implications.


In relation to South Sudan, I have engaged in political advocacy at the highest-level with the leaders of both parties to the conflict, namely President Salva Kiir and the opposition commander, Dr. Riek Machar. As a result, both sides have issued communiqués to address sexual violence, including by training their forces, holding perpetrators to account, and facilitating humanitarian access to populations in need. In the case of the opposition group, known as the “SPLA-IO”, this marks the first time that a concrete plan for combating sexual violence has been adopted by a non-State armed group.

Pursuant to this plan, in October last year, 53 SPLA-IO commanders signed specific undertakings that reinforce their responsibility for preventing and punishing these crimes.

Significant progress has also been seen in relation to the DRC, with the appointment of a Personal Representative of the President on Sexual Violence, and the signing by 30 commanders of undertakings to prohibit sexual violence. My Office has provided technical, material and financial support to the military justice system, which has helped to increase the rate of prosecutions, including of a General and other senior officials.  

Following the politically-motivated mass rape of 109 women in Guinea’s capital, Conakry, in September 2009, four high-ranking military officers have been indicted, including the former President Moussa Dadis Camara, thanks to support from the Team of Experts in my Office.

This is the first time that a former Head of State has been indicted for such crimes by their nation’s own justice system.

In Côte d’Ivoire, the national army has worked with my Office to adopt a Code of Conduct for Ivorian Soldiers on Preventing Sexual Violence. We have also signed Joint Communiqués with the Governments of Somalia and the Central African Republic to combat these crimes.

Despite this dramatic progress, it seems that just as we make inroads in one area, such as the adoption of accountability frameworks by national armed and security forces, new challenges emerge, and the problem acquiresdisturbing new dimensions. We are currently witnessing the use of rape as a tactic of terrorism by armed extremist groups who have no regard for international law or international legitimacy. Engaging with such groupsraises a host of political and operational challenges that current diplomatic tools and approaches may be inadequate to address.

In April of last year, I visited the Middle East to see firsthand how sexual violence was being used by terrorist groups, ISIL in particular, as well as by the Government of Syria. I travelled to Damascus in Syria, as well as to Baghdad, Erbil, Dohuk and Lalish in Iraq. I also met with survivors of sexual violence and displaced communities in the neighboring countries of Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Since returning, my Office has formulated a multi-sectoral strategy to combat sexual violence in the region, and is working towards a framework of cooperation with the government of Iraq.


While ISIL flagrantly publicizes its abuses, the women and girls affected are shamed intosilencesometimes even suicide. In Iraq, I met with Yezidi spiritual leader Baba Sheikh who called for his community to support, rather than ostracize, women and girls who returned from ISIL captivity. He told his followers unequivocally: “They should keep their heads up. They have done nothing wrong”. Other moral authorities in the region should follow this inspiring example. Traditional and religious leaders can help to shift the shame and stigma of sexual violence from the victims to the perpetrators. This must include negating any attempt to legitimize sexual violence on religious grounds. For instance, it has become apparent that ISIL has incorporated sexual violence into the grim logic of punishment and reward by which it controls behavior and consolidates its power. During the Holy Month of Ramadan in 2015, ISIL ran a competition to memorize the Quran, offering the first three winners Yezidi sex slaves as a prize.

Seizing women as the “spoils of war”, forcibly marrying, trading or enslaving them as the “prerogative of the conqueror” is a practice that has no place in the 21st Century. Yet these are not isolated incidents. The same litany of horrors echoes across the accounts of Nigerian girls who fled from Boko Haram, the tales of Somali women liberated from Al-Shabaab, and depictions of women’s lives in northern Mali under the extremist group Ansar Dine. These groups invariably restrict women’s autonomy, rights and freedoms through a reign of terror. The wars being wrought by extremist groups in Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Nigeria, Mali and elsewhere are being fought on the bodies of women and girls and, to a large extent, fought over the bodies of women and girls. Extremists view women’s bodies as “vessels” for producing a generation that can be raised in their ownimage, according to their radical ideology.

ISIL’s methods and ideas may be medieval, but the way they communicate them is distinctly modern. More than 30,000 men and women from over 100 countries have been lured into their ranks as fighters or brides through sophisticated social media messaging. This has turned the Internet – a platform designed to liberate, unite and connect people – into a tool of evil. Communication is ISIL’s “oxygen” and we must find ways to suffocate them. We must continually contest their narrative and worldview in order to win the underlying battle of ideas. In the territories these groups control, women’s bodies have become sites of contestation between fundamentalist and progressive values. This means that every step forward for women’s rights is also a small victory in the fight against fundamentalism.

When we think of terrorism, we tend to think of destruction, killing, kidnapping and abduction. Rape and other forms of sexual violence are not mentioned in any national counterterrorism legislation. The Security Council’s recent recognition of sexual violence as both a “tactic of war” and a “tactic of terrorism” affirms that counter-terrorism strategies can no longer be decoupled from strategic efforts to end this scourge. Armed groups often view the civilian population as a resource to be exploited, seeing women’s sexuality and reproductive capacity as commodities to be “owned”, “traded” and trafficked as part of the political economy of war. ISIL has used sexual violence to mobilize resources to fund its operations, including through the ransoming and sale of women and girls. It is believed that $850,000 was paid in January 2015 for the release of 200 Iraqi Yezidis.

When sexual violence is deliberately employed as a tool of genocide against ethnic, political and religious minority groups, the intention is not simply to kill the enemy, but to control – or even end – their ability to give birth. In this way, women’s bodies are used as “biological weapons” to alter the demography of a region and to unravel existing kinship ties. Attacking women as “soft targets” to reach otherwise unreachable enemies, as a proxy for their husbands, fathers or sons who are fighters or political leaders, or because they are seen as the bearers of sociocultural identity, literally turns women’s bodies into “battlefields” and “weapons factories” for producing the next generation of fighters.

Perhaps the greatest challenge in relation to atrocity crimes like conflict-related sexual violence is moving from a long history of justice delayed, and justice denied, to justice delivered; and from a culture of impunity to a culture of deterrence. The World Bank estimates that 90 per cent of conflicts are recurring conflicts, and amajor reason for their recurrence is the lack of justice. While the trauma, stigma, illness and shame is often a life sentence for the victim, the perpetrator walks free. Victims are then further terrorized when theirrapist remains at large within their community.

There is nothing that emboldens the perpetrators more than knowing they will not be held to account.
Therefore, justice must not only be done, it must be seen to done. Societies must see women as the holders of rights that will be enforced. Accountability for these crimes is an essential precondition for restoring State authority and public faith in the Rule of Law. It demonstrates that no political or military leader is above the law, and no woman or child is below it. In order to change the calculation and behavior of potential perpetrators, legal frameworks need to be swiftly and consistently enforced. However, there is still a glaring disparity between the international legal standards that govern sexual violence and the national legislation in conflict-affected countries, which often minimize these offenses or conflate them with “adultery” or “morality crimes”. This shields the perpetrator at the expense of the victim. Indeed, survivors often describe feeling twice victimized: once by the crime itself, and again by the justice system that trivializes their trauma.

What the women I have met with are seeking is justice in its fullest sensenot just law. Simply punishing the perpetrator is not enough; unless there is a realistic prospect of services, reparations and redress, survivors will not come forward to report. For them, it would be both dangerous and futile.

I believe that efforts to address sexual violence can provide a leverage point for wider structural reforms to change the culture of military, security and justice institutions. Structurally transformative reparations, for example, can help to ensure that the dividends of peace and justice flow equally to all, and that wartime rape does not become socially entrenched as a peacetime reality.


Women have long observed that “the personal is political” and, for me, the political quest for gender justice is also deeply personal.


So allow me to end on a personal note, by saying that I speak to you today not only as a United Nations official, and not only as a former Foreign Minister, but as someone who knows firsthand what it means to be deprived and culturally de-valued because I was born a girl in a time and place, in rural Sierra Leone, when girls were denied education and opportunity. I also know what it means to be targeted for violence as a woman who spoke out against my nation’s 12-year civil war. When I see the heart-wrenching images of mass migration in the media, I remember all too vividly how it feels to be forced to flee your home and country by boat, with nothing but the clothes on your back. This was also my story and my reality.


During the dark days of civil war in my homeland, Sierra Leone, an estimated 65,000 women and girls were raped, and an entire generation traumatized. In the wake of war, I worked to build solidarity networks among women, rallying them together ahead of our first-ever democratic election in June 1996. In a country where even the most basic healthcare infrastructure had been damaged, we found a form of recovery, healing and hope in standing together and standing-up for peace and political change. As our cause gained momentum and our sense of hope for the future returned, I witnessed the transformation of these women from victims to survivors.

Hope is everything.

Hope is the only thing stronger than fear.

My life experience has taught me this, and I apply it to my work with survivors of sexual violence today.

A recent example stands out in my mind. When I visited Iraq last April, I met two young Yezidi girls aged 11 and 15 who had survived the nightmare of ISIL captivity. They had since abandoned their education because of the extreme trauma and deep shame of what they had endured. I told them that pursuing their dreams would be the greatest blow they could strike to the ideology of the militants who held them captive.

These girls have since been resettled in Germany, and I was reunited with them on a recent visit to Berlin. I found them greatly changed. Today, they are filled with hope – one aspires to be a teacher, and the other a doctor.

Wartime sexual slavery, an atrocity that should have been relegated to the distant past, almost robbed these girls of afuture. Fortunately, they have a second chance. Yet, for every case we hear about, practitioners in the field estimate that 10 or 20 cases go undocumented and unaddressed. Fear and cultural stigma converge to prevent the vast majority of sexual violence survivors from ever coming forward to report their ordeal.

The particular and defining evil of rape is that it sentences the survivor to silence.
As the great American poet, Maya Angelouonce said: “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you”. MayaAngelou, herself a survivor of rape,refused to speak for six years as a result of the trauma she endured. It was not until a woman mentor introduced her to a local library that she found sanctuary in a world of books. From being muted by a culture of silence and shame, she went on to – literally – find her voice.

All survivors deserve that chance, and that support. So let us spare no effort to uplift the role of women working across political and ethnic fault-lines to build peace in places torn by war. Let us pay tribute to the women on the frontlines who give other women the confidence to emerge from the shadows and reclaim their lives and dignity.

For my part, I will continue to stand up and speak out, and to be a voice for the voiceless, because I know that no problem in human history has ever been solved through silence.


In Syria, one of the women I met with told me: “This is not our war, but we continue to fight for peace”. In many war-torn corners of the globe, women are working tirelessly for peace; the challenge is to make peace work for women. This means addressing sexual violence in conflict as not only one of the great moral issues of our time, but one of the great securityimperatives also. It means empowering women and delivering justice. Our collective conscience, our shared future, and our common humanity depend on it.

Thank you.

© Copyright by Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

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