Sexual Violence in Conflict: Motion

27th November 2012

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. It is my pleasure to second the motion. I commend Senator Norris on initiating this motion, which has received support across the House.

It is fitting that the debate takes place on the nearest working day to the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, although, as Senator Norris said, sexual violence in conflict is not limited to women. It is important and timely that we, as a Parliament, have this debate, particularly with Ireland’s upcoming Presidency of the European Union and our recently won membership of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Senator Norris spoke with great passion and authority about the heinous use of sexual violence, rape and other forms of sexual abuse as a tactic or weapon of war. The gravity of rape as a tactic of war is such that it is explicitly covered under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court 1998, which entered into force in 2002. It has jurisdiction over the most serious crimes of international concern. More recently, UN Resolution 1820 was passed in June 2008. It notes that women and girls are particularly targeted by the use of sexual violence, including as a tactic of war, to humiliate, dominate, instil fear in, disperse and-or forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic group.

As Senator Norris said, the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is of extreme concern. It was also brought to light by Mr. Peadar King who has produced a thought provoking documentary which is essential viewing for all parliamentarians. When we viewed it in the AV room, it was the first time I saw nobody being able to say anything at the end of a viewing. We were all shocked to the core that this is happening today in another part of the world. No conflict appears to be immune from these despicable acts. In Burma, the military has been accused of carrying out rapes and gang rapes of women and girls as young as eight years old with impunity. Rape and sexual violence continue to be perpetrated with unspeakable frequency in Sudan’s Darfur region, with women and girls running the gauntlet of being raped every time they leave the safety of their villages to collect water and fire wood.

The level of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is almost beyond description. It goes far beyond the rape of babies, elderly women, men and boys. It includes gang rapes conducted by the militia in front of family and community members and, in some cases, male relatives are forced at gunpoint to rape their own daughters, mothers or sisters. There are reports of rapes being carried out with bayonets and guns shot into the victims’ genitals. Unfortunately, it would be possible for me to continue at length with further examples illustrating the pandemic proportions of the devastating impact and urgency of this situation. However, what we need is action and I will use this time to focus on where action must take place.

There must be action at international level to bring about an immediate and complete cessation by all parties to armed conflict of all acts of sexual violence against civilians, in accordance with UN Resolution 1820. With regard to Ireland’s contribution, obviously we are committed under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. We are also committed to international obligations under UN Security Council Resolutions 1325, 1820, 1888 and 1889. These obligations are collectively addressed under Ireland’s National Action Plan for Implementation of UNSCR 1325, 2011-2014. I am pleased to learn that progress has been made with the recent establishment and first meeting of this action plan’s monitoring group, which is being led by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and chaired by Ms Liz McManus, to ensure the meaningful implementation of UNSCR 1325.

I commend the efforts of the Irish Joint Consortium on Gender Based Violence, which is made up of human rights, humanitarian and development agencies, the Irish Defence Forces, Irish Aid and government agencies. It is innovative that the membership is both governmental and non-governmental. Hopefully, it will provide an example to other countries. It is an excellent and meaningful initiative which strives to address gender based violence and promote the adoption of a coherent and co-ordinated response within the policies, procedures and programmes of all its member agencies. I also note Ireland’s support for and contribution to the achievement of a system wide cohesion process for the establishment of the United Nations new entity for gender equality and the empowerment of women, UN Women. I commend this. Ireland will be a board member of this body next year and I urge the Minister of State to ensure that gender based violence, sexual violence, sexual abuse and rape as a weapon of war are promoted as atrocities of urgent concern. Equally, I urge the Minister to bring it to the agenda of the EU. I cannot understand why the EU is not taking more concerted and coherent action. For me, one of the reasons for membership of the EU is that through the strength of the combined numbers we can provide a role model on the global stage of what is acceptable and unacceptable.

As Ireland is a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, we need to intensify our diplomatic efforts to secure action with the Africa group and the African Union. I call on the Government to have a thematic resolution on sexual violence in conflict at the next session of the United Nations Human Rights Council as an outcome of this debate.

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