Actor and activist Angelina Jolie urged the U.N. Security Council on Friday to fulfill its promise to hold to account perpetrators of sexual violence against children in conflict settings.
“I have met child survivors of sexual violence – and domestic violence and trauma and abuse – everywhere,” Jolie said of her 20 years working with the U.N. refugee agency. “There is no continent untouched by these crimes.”
She addressed a council session reflecting on the issue, one year after adoption of Resolution 2467, which strengthened prevention through justice and accountability mechanisms, empowered the council to impose sanctions on perpetrators, and opened the way for victims to seek reparations.
Jolie gave the example of Yazidi children she had met in northern Iraq. Thousands of their mothers and female relatives have been abducted, enslaved and abused since 2014 by fighters with the Islamic State group. Many are still in captivity.
“Many of the children witnessed the murder of their relatives, and the rape of their mothers,” she told the council in a virtual meeting. “One doctor who has provided medical care for hundreds of Yazidi women and girls said that almost every girl she had treated between the ages of 9 and 17 had been raped or subjected to other sexual violence. In some cases, victims were girls under the age of 9.”
Specialized care needed
She said the children experience post-traumatic stress, anxiety, depression, flashbacks and nightmares, yet these “invisible victims” are particularly overlooked when it comes to support services.
“What few services there are have been largely focused on women survivors – who have immense trauma and unmet needs of their own,” Jolie said. “The reality is that no one is getting the care they need. But there is a specific lack of dedicated care for children.”
Jolie said she has seen these problems in every conflict setting she has visited and urged the international community to step up its funding to address the needs of all survivors.
Khin Ohmar, a peace activist from Myanmar, spoke on behalf of the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security. She said in her country, the military has long used rape as a weapon against ethnic communities.
“The horrific accounts of Rohingya women during the 2016 and 2017 so-called ‘clearance operations’ remain urgent, shocking and unique in their ferocity,” she said. “They are also representative of the military’s pattern of using gender-based violence in their campaigns against other ethnic communities, including the Kachin, Shan, Ta’ang and Rakhine.”
She said grave international crimes continue to be committed in Myanmar, and she urged the council to refer the file to the International Criminal Court, as domestic accountability is not possible.
Sexual violence a tactic of war
The U.N. secretary-general’s envoy on sexual violence in conflict, Pramila Patten, said sexual violence is a tactic of war and a tool of political repression, used to dehumanize, destabilize and forcibly displace populations. It includes rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, forced abortion, enforced sterilization and forced marriage.
“This is a crime that shreds the very fabric that binds communities together, leaving social cohesion and safety nets threadbare,” Patten told the council.
She said the U.N. documented nearly 3,000 cases last year of conflict-related sexual violence but noted it is a crime that is underreported because of fear of reprisals and stigmatization. Nearly 90% of attacks targeted women and girls; 848 were on children. Hundreds of cases also targeted men, boys and LGBTQI persons.
She noted that many victims are still seeking justice and support years later.
“In post-conflict contexts, such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, survivors of sexual violence are still fighting to realize their rights and status as legitimate victims of war, in order to access reparations and redress,” Patten said.
She urged the council to enforce its resolution and show perpetrators that there are consequences for violating it.