Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict
Senior Fellow, Women and Foreign Policy Program, Council on Foreign Relations
Today, sexual violence is used as a tactic of war, terrorism, torture, and repression, and has driven massive displacement of the civilian population in Myanmar, Syria, the Horn of Africa, and elsewhere, according to the UN secretary-general’s latest report. Special Representative Patten has met with survivors of conflict-related sexual violence, and those working on the frontlines to support them, in settings such as Iraq, Sudan, Nigeria and the Bangladeshi camps where persecuted Rohingya civilians have sought refuge. Special Representative Patten shares what survivors have told her about the burden of physical and psychological trauma, social stigma, and impunity. She reflects on what is needed—from governments, justice and security sector institutions, civil society organizations, and the UN system itself —to end wartime rape once and for all. This meeting is generously supported by the Compton Foundation.
BIGIO: OK, good afternoon everybody. Thank you so much for joining us today. And welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations.
I’m Jamille Bigio, senior fellow with the Council’s Women and Foreign Policy program. Our program has been working for fifteen years now to analyze how elevating the status of women and girls advances U.S. foreign policy and national security objectives.
And I want to take a moment before we begin to thank our advisory council members who are with us today, as well as the Compton Foundation for its generous support of today’s discussion.
I also want to remind everyone that the presentation, discussion, and the question-and-answer period will be on the record.
Yesterday marked the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violation in Conflict. This year’s theme is “The Plight and Rights of Children Born of War,” focused on the women and children released from armed and violent extremist groups who struggle to reintegrate into their families and communities. These children may be left stateless, they may be left in legal limbo, and they’re often more susceptible to radicalization, to trafficking, and to exploitation. And yet, they’ve been ignored by the broader peace and security discourse.
We’ll have the opportunity today to hear more from our guest, SRSG Patten, on strategies to rectify this.
It’s been a decade since the U.N. Security Council first took up the issue of conflict-related sexual violence, releasing Resolution 1820, the first that made explicit how sexual violence is a security threat for us all.
Yet, as SRSG Patten recently briefed the U.N. Security Council, despite international recognition of this devastating abuse as a crime against humanity, sexual violence continues to plague conflicts from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Syria. It’s proliferated amongst extremist groups, including Boko Haram Nigeria and the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. It’s also been used as a tactic of torture and repression and has driven massive displacement of the civilian populations in Myanmar, Syria, the Horn of Africa, and elsewhere.
I’m thrilled that we are joined today by Pramila Patten, the U.N. special representative of conflict-related sexual violence, who will share with us what she has learned meeting with survivors and those working on the front lines to support them and what more can be done to better respond to wartime rape.
Since taking up your mandate as SRSG on sexual violence in conflict last June, you’ve made a concerted effort to go to the field and to engage in direct dialogue with survivors, with affected communities. Can you share some of your impressions, some of your findings from these trips? What have survivors shared with you?
PATTEN: Thank you. Thank you, Jamille.
I would really like to begin by sincerely thanking the Council on Foreign Relations for hosting this event to highlight the issue of conflict-related sexual violence.
As you know, I took up office last year in June, I’m just a year in office. I’m the third special representative of the secretary-general since the office was established in 2010 following the adoption of the resolution in 2009.
And since taking office, I have actually emphasized the importance of maintaining a survivor-centered approach to the implementation of this mandate. I see the mandate as having the face of a survivor. And for that reason, I felt it very crucial to maintain a deep conviction, connection with survivors. I felt it extremely important to directly engage and to consult with survivors.
And that also is as a result of the experience that I had when I was on the CEDAW Committee, the Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, on which I sat as an expert for fifteen years and took the initiative in 2010, for example, to draft a general recommendation on the situation of women in conflict prevention, conflict, and post-conflict. And for the first time, I engaged the committee in elaborating a GR, engaging regional consultation. And what I gained through these regional consultations was a real eyeopener.
So when I took office, I made it a priority to actually meet with survivors in the field. I think that the insight that I gain through this direct engagement would not have been possible. The direct engagement really enabled me understand the needs, the experiences, the vulnerabilities in a way that would have been impossible.
Hearing also firsthand accounts of the experience of women and men whose lives and livelihoods have been shattered by armed conflict has also enabled my office to take more strategic and targeted action to prevent and address the scourge of conflict-related sexual violence.
You mentioned yesterday’s celebration of the third International Day on the Elimination of Sexual Violence. I’ll just give you one concrete example. One of my first missions when I took up office was to go to Bosnia. And during a meeting with survivors, I met a young man, an activist, who was himself a child born of rape. I thought I understood the plight of children born of rape until I met this young man. And it was a real eyeopener.
And yesterday, the focus of the third international day was precisely on the plight and the rights of these children born of rape. And I brought this young man to New York and he had the opportunity to share his story at the event yesterday.
To date, I have visited Iraq, Bangladesh, the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar where I went twice actually. I went to Myanmar, Guinea, Nigeria, DRC, and Sudan. And I’m now preparing to go, my next field mission will be in South Sudan in the very first week of July. Together it will be a joint U.N.-AU mission, together with the DSG and the AU special envoy for Africa. And as you know, the situation is really rapidly deteriorating in South Sudan and it becomes a priority.
Each visit has been unique, but I must say that the findings across these various contexts confirm that sexual violence continues unfortunately to be used as a tactic of war and terrorism and is even being employed as a tool of political repression to target women and girls.
For example, during my visit to Sudan, I met with women in Abushok and Alhujajj camps who had been displaced since 2003, 2004. And despite all the—well, the Sudanese government is in a completely distinct posture in terms of their denial. They are very proud of some of the initiatives that they have taken, such as collection of arms. But meeting with those women in a context where freedom of expression is not quite—is very much an issue, they were still very willing to share with me the security risks that they were facing as soon as they step outside of the camp, the real risk of sexual violence as we are speaking, and they took chances in talking to me in front of the national intelligence service. They shared their experiences.
In West Darfur, I met with women who told me how they were unable to return to their prewar homes due to security concerns, mainly due to the fear of being raped. And some of the women shared very, very recent incidents of rapes outside of the camp.
My two visits in the Rohingya refugee camp—I first went to Cox’s Bazar in November. And I engaged directly with survivors, with witnesses, with caseworkers, and service providers. And the women were very, very willing to share their stories. And what I learned firsthand from these women were these horrific accounts of sexual violence of an extremely violent nature, of girls and women being tied to rocks and trees and being gangraped by multiple soldiers. And their accounts were very much corroborated by the injuries that they were very willing to actually show me on their bodies, different parts of their bodies.
But what was also clear—I was at four different camps. And we’re talking about mega camps of five hundred thousand people living in one camp. What was clear was sexual violence being used as a push factor for forced displacement in a context of an overall campaign of ethnic cleansing.
At the same time, when I was there in November, there was a sense of relief on the part of these women who had successfully crossed the border. And they were relieved, they were safe now in Bangladesh, although they asked for justice and they asked that the perpetrators be brought to justice.
But when I went back last month in May, there was a sense of despair because now they know that repatriation is not going to happen in the—in the near future. Their ordeal is not over. They shared security concerns now inside the camp; again, concerns about sexual violence being perpetrated by Rohingya people in the camps, but also people coming from outside.
The prevalence and the extent of trafficking in persons and sexual exploitation of prostitution, they shared this with me. And all the—I met with different focus groups of women and groups of adolescent girls and that was their major, major concern, of girls being snatched after five p.m. at night from their shelters made of tarpaulin and bamboo. And they all shared stories of tarpaulin, especially the female-headed hospital and also children-headed households, of tarpaulin being slit in the middle of the night and children being snatched from the shelter. They are not able to access the toilets because men are waiting for them in the toilets. But the trafficking issue is a real major concern and they were saying it’s happening in every block. Girls are disappearing, children are disappearing.
And, of course, what I also found was that these women were in need of both physical and psychosocial support, which was not, in terms of—there were gaps at both quantitative and qualitative levels. And service coverage, despite all the efforts of the different U.N. agencies in the camp, remains limited with GBV response quite underfunded.
And when I went back again in May, I must say that I went back immediately after the visit with the Security Council, because in December I briefed the security council on my first visit and recommended that they also go to Cox’s Bazar in Myanmar, which they did in April. And I also prepared a package for members of the council to flag, for example, the high rate of pregnancies as a result of these rapes and the fact that many of these pregnancies were being hidden for obvious reasons and the likelihood of the maternal rate being very high and that urgent measures be taken to address the sexual and reproductive health of these—of these women.
And when I went back last May, that was obviously very apparent, that what they went through in August following the crackdown was not only affecting the survivors, but also the children born of rape. It’s a real dilemma for young, unmarried women to have these babies and they’re not accessing medical care, even when it’s available.
Yesterday, the government of Bangladesh gave us some figures during the event, that they estimate—and that’s, of course, very much underreported—sixty thousand pregnant women as of now and that no less than sixty babies are being born per day in the camp. And when you add this to UNFPA reports that only 22 percent of deliveries are occurring in health facilities, that gives you an idea of the scale of the—of the problem.
In Iraq, I must say that, prior to my actual visit in Iraq in March, I was very much focused on the work that the office had done. And to show you the importance of field visits—again, so I was only focused on the plight of the Yazidi women, whom I had met in Berlin in the context of the special rapporteur project. But when I went to Iraq and visited a camp in Mosul and in Erbil, I met with women from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds and I understood that the Yazidi women were not the only victims. And you had a large number, for example, of majority Sunni women who were also very much victims. And in fact, their plight was—it was—it can be said that even more difficult because they are perceived as being pro ISIS. There is this misconception of every Sunni being pro Daesh. And they shared their concerns with me.
In addition to—they were—they were in the IDP camps, some of them tried to return to their—to their home after Mosul was liberated, but due to security concerns, they had to return. Many of them are not accessing available support, medical and psychosocial support, out of fear of being arrested, of being questioned as intelligence assets, and of being—of being detained.
Of course, the situation of the Yazidi survivors remains extremely difficult. And those that I actually met who had been released in December—I met them in March, they had been released in December—none of them had access to medical or psychosocial support. They were like living corpses sitting in front of me. And I had to spend a long time with them to be able to engage.
And then I understood that there was, in addition to the stigma of sexual violence, having been in captivity for three, three-and-a-half years, there was that additional layer of stigma in terms of the association with Daesh, having lived in a Daesh environment for so long. And they, too, were very much confined to their camp, often by their parents, out also of the fear of being interrogated as intelligence assets. And the—and information that I received from NGOs also confirmed that there were many women actually in detention, but I was not able to get the actual data from the government authorities.
The situation of the—of the children born of rape is even more concerning in Iraq, because I met with the religious leaders from all religious faiths and none of them are prepared to accept the children. So the Yazidi religious leaders, for example, the baba sheikh, has actually embraced the women and has actually gone a long way in encouraging families and communities to accept the women back. But the babies are simply not accepted.
So when you meet the women who shared with you the choice that they had to make in terms of returning to—choosing between returning to their—to their families or choosing to stay behind and to care for—for their—for their children, it was very, very difficult.
The Christian religious leaders, they are very much in denial and they say that nothing happened to the Christian women. They were given the choice between forced conversion to Islam or to leave and they left and they lost everything and they moved out of Mosul. But the NGOs tell you that there are many Christian women who also have been taken into captivity.
And today, the situation is also very difficult because huge ransoms are being claimed. And I met with families who told me that they had to sell their organs to get the money to have their daughters released. And we’re talking about no less than between $25,000 to $35,000 because these are women who have been sold several times and this is the amount that is being actually claimed for their—for their—for their return.
And the—for the Turkman-Shia community, the religious leaders were very straightforward. They said we simply cannot accept those children back. And what we know is that the women have not returned, they have integrated to different communities and they are not back, but they are not accounted for. We know that they have integrated and they have separate data for those who actually are still in captivity, so they have two sets of data. But they know that these women will not come back because they will be killed. This is what they said. And we are negotiating for them not to be killed, but should they return with their children, they would—both mother and child would be—would be killed. So it’s extremely, extremely complex.
But what transpires in Nigeria, Maiduguri where I went, or Iraq in Mosul or Sudan is that they need physical security, but, in addition to access to medical and psychosocial services, legal support to access justice, but also economic livelihood opportunities. And this is one of my area of focus now as a result of these field missions. That economic livelihood opportunities is not only about economic survival, but it’s also part of the recovery.
In Cox’s Bazar, women were asking me for knitting kits and sewing machines, which I was not able to provide because the government of Bangladesh in November was not keen on anything that could be seen as a pull factor, so nothing has been provided to these women.
But in Mosul, I met with women who were actually at their sewing machine or with their knitting kits. And it made me understand that it’s really part of the—of the healing part of the—of the recovery.
I can talk for ages, but that’s the area where I’m placing a lot of focus through U.N. Action Network, comprising fourteen U.N. entities, that I actually chair. That economic livelihood supports should also be part of the—of the holistic assistance that is provided to these—to these victims before they become survivors.
BIGIO: So powerful to hear the messages and the priorities that survivors are sharing with you, whether it’s the continued trafficking in camps to the stigma that they’re facing and the lack of services that they’re receiving, whether psychosocial, economic support.
I know that in April the U.N. Security Council held its annual debate on sexual violence and conflict, where the secretary-general presented a report and where you presented to the council some of the issues that you’ve laid out today. You had the opportunity to hear from councilmembers, where they’re seeing gaps in priorities as well. What do you see as some of the key themes and key trends coming out of that conversation at the policy level?
PATTEN: Well, the report of the SG, I think, serves, above all, to measure progress or regression on this agenda. And the 2017 report, which was the first report that I presented, actually highlighted how, in spite of having reached some important legal, policy, and operational milestones, they situation in most of the—of the nineteen conflict-affected countries covered in the report remains dire and demands urgent attention.
I flagged a few rising trends in the 2017 report, which is very much based also on the field mission, recalls to negative and harmful coping mechanisms in situations where survivors are deprived of the material support of their families, such as early marriage. You see that in Iraq, you see that everywhere, you see that in Cox’s Bazar, the withdrawal of girls from schools, and women from employment. So it’s very disturbing because what we are seeing in terms of trends is that the response to sexual violence is often more repression in the name of protection rather than greater gender equality and empowerment.
When you see the government of Iraq trying to introduce a law that would allow nine-year-old girls to be married in the name of protection, and when you talk to the religious leaders, they all—they all support this legislation. You talk to parliamentarians, including women parliamentarians, they all support this legislation.
Or you have a member of parliament, a woman, who has actually introduced a bill in parliament to say that the thirty-year-old survivors of sexual violence who are above thirty years or the female heads of house, the widows, et cetera, survivors of sexual violence, they should be married off and the government should actually give an economic package of incentive to the men who would marry them. And the religious—in the bill, they mention five million dinars. I don’t know what is the equivalent in U.S. dollars, but to the—to the religious leaders that I spoke to, they were saying, yes, maybe a flat, maybe a plot of land should be given to these men for them to marry these women. And it was an interesting discussion, but very frustrating at the same time because they simply would not accept that, you know, the same apartment or plot of land or economic package could be given to the women and help them rebuild their lives. They were all in favor of these women marrying their rapists, for example.
So it’s really repression and repression in the name of protection. And I saw this in Cox’s Bazar as well, where we see how already Bangladesh is a country with one of the highest rates of early marriages. Now in Cox’s Bazar with the vulnerability of this large population, early marriage—in the name of early marriage, these girls are being given away. But they are eventually being trafficked.
And that’s the trend in other countries, Central African Republic, Somalia, Yemen, we see the rates of early—of child marriage being amongst the highest in the world. And it has also spiked in the Syrian—amongst the Syrian refugees.
So we—it’s clear that economic desperation continues to be also a major driver of sexual violence, that enables terrorists, transnational criminal groups in places such as Iraq or Syria or Colombia, to profit from trafficking of women and girls for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Victims are either abducted or deceived by false promises of lucrative job offers only to be forced into sexual slavery and prostitution.
The sexual slavery practice by Daesh, I think it’s quite unique. Because I talk to the girls in Nigeria, I talk to the Chibok girls, I talk to—it was not—it was not quite the same. Boko Haram was actually abducting the girls and then married, they would marry the girls, and they would impregnate the girls.
I was in one room with two hundred young girls—I can’t call them women, they weren’t that high, fourteen, fifteen—there were 162 babies in that room, tiny babies. And what was also—it still gives me the chill when I think of it. They came to me and said you know we were better off with our Boko Haram husband. Although in the first place we were forcefully abducted, forcefully married, but then they treated us well once we were married. No other men would abuse us. We heard they were very bad people, that they were killing, et cetera, but they did not kill in front of us. We were fed, we were clothed, our babies had food and everything. Now we are in the camp and we are being abused by men in the camp. We are stigmatized by even the women inside the camp. We are called Boko Haram wives; our babies are called Boko Haram babies. And they would not—we get abused when we go and fetch water, when we go and collect firewood. We are abused by the Civilian Justice Task Force responsible for the management of the camp. So you have that kind of situation.
And then on the other hand, you have the organized sexual slavery of Daesh, where these girls—I went to Heilbronn in Germany to a shelter where many years, over fifty years, the women are living because it’s an environment where they feel more at ease. And they were sharing the details of how they were sold from one to the—one to the other and how organized it was in terms of the price list and the younger ones were more expensive, if they had blue eyes. It’s really frightening.
So in the report, we depict how, for example, ISIL and other terrorist groups are trading in women and girls for profit and that women are being reduced to sexual commodities in the political economy of war and terrorism. And what we are scared of is that this model will be replicated now in other—in other conflicts.
What we also flag in the report as emerging is the distressed stigma of survivors layered with the presumption of guilt by association after being forcibly gifted or married to members of armed or terrorist groups, inhibiting their return to their areas of origin.
In Iraq up to now, not a single ISIS perpetrator has been prosecuted for sexual violence. Since Mosul has been liberated, there are thousands, hundreds of trials going on every day, but only through the lens of counterterrorism. So I met with the high judicial council and discussed it. Why aren’t you prosecuting sexual violence cases? And for them, the answer is clear. We simply have to prove affiliation and our antiterrorism law is back to 2006 and provides for the death penalty, whereas our criminal code dates back to the early nineteenth century and is quite archaic. But I told them, the women that I met want justice and up to now they don’t feel that they are having justice.
So Boko Haram, the same thing. Not a single Boko Haram person has been prosecuted. So we see that mass rape is really met with mass impunity. And, of course, this deters survivors from coming forward. And it’s really perpetrating the culture of silence that surrounds sexual violence. It’s really not helpful.
But at the same time, I’d like to be on a more positive note, the report refers to landmark cases in DRC, which were prosecuted resulting in the conviction of a colonel of the—of the force army, the FARDC, for the war crime of rape and pillage. There’s also a former member of the South Kivu parliament, a provincial parliament, who was convicted of a crime against humanity for his role in the abduction and rape of thirty-nine young children in Kavumu. And with the support of MONUSCO and the team of experts from my office, the experts, on the rule of law we have also supported these prosecutions, but hundreds of prosecutions that have been undertaken by the Congolese authorities.
And I must say it’s also the roadmap towards delisting because FARDC has been listed for a few years now. And the roadmap towards delisting is really prosecution in addition to a series of measures.
And I think the progress that we highlight in addressing pervasive cultures of impunity includes, for example, success we’ve had in Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan with regard to legislative reform, having national penal code in line with international norms and standards where, for example, penal codes have been brought into alignment with international standards by delinking rape from adultery and morality crimes. In Sudan, there has been a huge—a huge problem. If you go—a woman goes—and in fact when I was there, many women did not even know about this change in the law, so they were still scared of reporting cases of rape. Because once they report a case of rape, it can be interpreted as adultery because they’ve had sex outside marriage. So it’s a—it’s a catch-22 situation and it’s a double-edged sword for them.
So we’ve had these positive developments in terms of legislative framework. A number of countries have also signed a joint communique with my office to implement action plans to curb conflict-related sexual violence. And examples include Central African Republic, DRC, Guinea, Iraq, Somalia, and South Sudan.
And when I was in Myanmar in December, I told them that I would be recommending that Tatmadaw be listed; and in fact, we have—we have. But I told them already that I will recommend to the secretary-general. It’s up to the secretary-general to endorse or not my recommendation, but that I feel dutybound and compelled to make that recommendation. And I explained to them that the way forward would be to sign a joint communique with my office, which would entail training of the armed forces, supporting national authorities to prosecute perpetrators of sexual violence amongst other measures. So I left—I left them with a draft joint communique which is still under consideration.
And there’s also—similarly, I’ve expressed to the government of Bangladesh the support, I’ve extended the support of my office through a framework of cooperation to address, for example, the issue of trafficking and sexual exploitation of prostitution, and building capacity of their border guards, of their law enforcement authorities. That also is under consideration.
So these are some of these milestones. At the same time, I think they need to be—to be told because they serve as an important reminder that, while we have a long way to go, it is still possible to deliver justice and to prevent and to mitigate the risk when there is political will. Côte d'Ivoire, for example, was listed, and since last year we have delisted them. And for two—for two consecutive years, there has been no new case of sexual violence being reported.
So all these are clear signals that when there is political will, it is—sexual violence is preventable and we can mitigate—we can mitigate the risk.
BIGIO: You’ve shared a few ideas already, but can you reflect more on what you think can and should be done? When there is political will, what are the priorities that you see that the international community, that the United Nations, that governments, the U.S. government should be pursuing to better prevent and address sexual violence?
PATTEN: Well, I’ll take this opportunity to thank the U.S. government for being such a strong—such a strong supporter of this mandate, for being the penholder of this mandate, but for continuing to support. And I can assure you the support that I had with regard to the situation in Bangladesh and Myanmar, for example, if it was not for the U.S. putting the pressure, I would not have even been able to brief the Security Council on my visit to Cox’s Bazar. China was blocking, Russia was blocking, and it was through really intense lobbying of the U.S. government, the U.S. permanent mission that I was able to. So the support is critical. The support is critical, but also the financial support for the mandate.
The situation in Cox’s Bazar and Myanmar is huge. And it’s absolving a lot of the—of the resources of the office in terms of the labor intensity, but also financial. Financially, it has huge implications. And we do have situations like this with Nigeria and Boko Haram.
We also see, for example, in a country like DRC where resources are dwindling, but the needs are increasing with the situation in the Kasai, in Tanganyika, in Ituri where the situation is quite traumatic. And in spite of all the efforts of the—of the government and their wish to be—to be delisted, their interest to be delisted, but the figures have spiked on account of the situation in the Kasai. And yet, the resources of the office with U.N. Action Network or the team of experts, which has been doing very important work in DRC, now we are in the—in the red zone. So there’s also—there’s also that.
From the perspective of my office, where I want to place the focus, is I—and these are my strategic priorities for the office. I think it’s critical to reverse this culture of impunity into a culture of prevention and deterrence through justice and accountability. And that’s where I want to place the focus, justice and accountability. And I will give you one concrete example by what I mean, justice and accountability.
I take the example of Iraq. I go to Iraq, I meet with the high judicial council. I see no interest in prosecuting these cases. For them, it’s easy to go under their antiterrorism law. I meet with their religious leaders and they turn around and they say no woman is going to stand up in a court of law and will give evidence of sexual violence. And yet, when you meet with the women, they tell you they want justice.
And having met those Yazidi survivors in Mosul and seeing how devastated they are and how shattered they are and how difficult it may be to start with them in a court of law in Iraq, I went to—I went to Germany and I went to Heilbronn where—I went to a shelter where there are over fifty women. And I sat down and talked to them. I had met them last year in Berlin, but I went to Heilbronn, I sat with them and said, what does justice mean to you? Are you—are you willing? This is what the religious leaders are saying, this is what the law says. We can support these, we can bring these cases. My office with my team of experts can support you to have justice. And you are the privileged ones to have been relocated in Germany, so we will take you to Iraq to go through the proper legal channel to give your—to make your complaint, we’ll take you back to Germany, and then we’ll bring you back to Iraq for the trial. And they are extremely keen.
And so now my team of experts is really focused on—and we will partner with the German government, the federal prosecutor, we will partner with—there’s a psychologist with whom we’re working very closely who will be supporting these women. So we will—these test cases are crucial.
And yesterday, I got an email that the Canadians now want to meet with me because they want me to also maybe take the cases of the Yazidi who have been relocated in Canada. And I was going to reach out to them and to the others where Yazidi women have relocated because I know that this is going to have an impact once the ball starts rolling. So my focus is on justice and accountability. Because I think so long as impunity prevails, sexual violence will be normalized and will be trivialized.
I’m also reviewing all the joint communiques that this office has signed with a number of governments over the years. And I want also to place the focus on the legislative framework. I’m a lawyer by—I have been practicing law for thirty-five years. I think there’s no point in supporting government, in training them, et cetera, in supporting training judiciary and law enforcement on very retrograde laws that allow a victim to marry their perpetrator, et cetera. So I want to place the focus on the legislative framework so that when a government signs a joint communique, like Iraq, for example—and I was there for the adoption of the implementation plan—that they commit to review their legislative framework and we provide the support.
Most of these countries are parties to the Convention on the Rights of the Child or the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women that are legally binding treaties, so I really want to use all these mechanisms. So for me, it’s also the partnership. I don’t work in silos. My office cannot afford to work in silos. I have to work as a system, the U.N. system. And I work very closely with the U.N. treaty bodies.
And, of course, the survivors and the approach that I take is, of course, at the heart of the mandate. But also, addressing our work—by my first field mission, I was quite surprised. I was only meeting with ministry of defense, of interior, but not gender equality. And for me, addressing the invisible—addressing the root cause of this sexual violence, which is gender inequality and discrimination, is critical. So I think it’s also very, very important to address gender inequality and discrimination, which, to me, is really the invisible driver of this—of this sexual violence. When I see who are the women, who are the girls who are most vulnerable to sexual violence, we’re talking about rural women, we’re talking about uneducated, we’re talking about economically deprived women. So it’s really important.
But, of course, where member states, where the U.S. government could really support is—I was on the high-level advisory group on the fifteen-year review of Security Council Resolution 1325. And we came up with this global study with great recommendations which, unfortunately, I don’t think it’s being put to good use. So really reviving 1325, ensuring that women are part, at the peace table, ensuring that women are part of the reconstruction.
In Iraq right now, when I see these women in the camps—and some of them were telling me they’ve gone back and they’ve returned—and I was telling the prime minister that it’s reconstruction. A lot of money is going into Iraq for reconstruction, but reconstruction is not only about building bricks and mortar, it’s about these women and these—and these children. And women need to be part of the reconstruction, so I think that’s where the U.S. government could be very instrumental.
BIGIO: Thank you.
PATTEN: It’s on the right track, but could lead on this.
BIGIO: There’s certainly space for much more to be done to address the kinds of issues that you’ve put on the table today.
I want to open the floor for questions. Please, if you could raise your name placard, if you have one, and introduce yourself and the organization that you’re with.
Q: OK. Gloria Nyrock, American ORT.
I feel kind of sorry for you. You have so many places to go and so much to do. And I don’t know how big your office is, but I just—I think you’re terrific that you can—that you can stay on track and whatever.
But my question is this. In some of the countries that you visit, do you feel that the U.N.—that they’re willing to work with you or they resent the fact that the U.N. comes in to talk about policies of the countries? And how do you feel about being able to accomplish your goals unless you get the government to work—to work with you?
PATTEN: Well, with the U.N., of course, I have a great relationship. My visit is always facilitated by the U.N. resident coordinator. And the first meeting I always have when I go in a country will be with the U.N. family, the larger U.N. family. But, of course, that’s not the difficult part.
Besides, as I mentioned, I also chair U.N. Action Network which is a network of fourteen U.N. entities delivering as one. So the U.N. facilitates my mission, the U.N.—I’ll give you one concrete example, Myanmar. The U.N. in Bangladesh or the U.N. family in Myanmar, they are waiting for this joint communique and the framework of cooperation to be signed between my office and Myanmar and Bangladesh, respectively, because that gives them also the space to work in the country. But where it becomes very difficult is precisely when the government is not always receptive. Myanmar is one concrete example.
When I went to Bangladesh in November, I asked to go to Myanmar, but I did not receive any response from the government. Until the time that I briefed the Human Rights Council on the fifth of December, that’s when the invitation came. In fact, the invitation came a few days before simply because they did not want me to brief the Human Rights Council. But I told them not only I will go ahead with my briefing to the Human Rights Council, but I will also be briefing the Security Council on the twelfth of December. And immediately after briefing the Security Council, I went.
I must say that I was amongst the lucky ones in the U.N. who actually had very good meetings in Myanmar, although with a state counselor the meeting turned out not to be a substantive one because she refused to engage. I met her for forty-five minutes, but she refused to engage. But all my other meetings were very positive and very, very substantive. And there was almost an acknowledgement that some elements of the Tatmadaw may have committed the sexual violence. They were receptive to the kind of collaboration that I was putting on the table based on the collaboration that we have with a large number of countries in terms of the training of the armed forces, in terms of support that we can—we can provide the judiciary law enforcement.
But like I said, with Myanmar I’m still in the waiting mode. But the experience of my other colleagues in Myanmar has not been so good. But again, for me, nothing concrete has come out because I’m still waiting for them to agree to the joint communiqué.
The last meeting I had with the permanent representative of Myanmar, he was indicating that I should come to Myanmar to sit with the technical team there and to work on the joint communiqué. But I proposed that they come to New York. I didn’t want to come to be in an environment where, you know, we would be compelled to compromise on issues.
So, of course, it can be very difficult to work when there’s no political will and when the government—but, of course, you go with the permission of the government, you do not go on a field mission without the consent of the government. But how collaborative they are of course makes a big difference.
In Iraq, for example, I must say that I was very pleasantly surprised by the openness of the authorities. But now with the elections, I don’t know what, I’m still waiting, because I will have to go back to Iraq now for the implementation of the implementation plan. But it makes a difference when you can really openly engage, when you have a prime minister who will sit with you for an hour and brainstorm on how we can support these children born of rape because it is so—it’s so unique, it’s such a tribal society, sectarian. They don’t have an easy solution. It’s not as easy as in Bosnia or in Colombia. They can’t even give a name to the child. Whose name? They can’t even—the mother cannot transmit nationality. It’s extremely—it’s extremely complex.
So today, we have thousands and thousands of children born of rape in Iraq, in an orphanage, without a name, without any identity, completely in complete legal limbo. And we have commissioned research to come up with a possible solution to support the government of Iraq as to how they could—they could deal with this.
For example, in Bangladesh in 1991 or ’71—1971, 1971 war with Pakistan, there were—there were also many, many cases of rape and children born of rape and the same issue. And I was discussing it, and how the then president said, OK, we don’t know what to call them, just give them my name. So you have many babies with the name of the—of the prime minister, the father of the current prime minister, Mujibur Rahman. So you have a generation of kids bearing the name.
And the prime minister of Iraq was saying, you know, I don’t know how to, I simply need your help, I don’t know how to resolve—to resolve this issue of name because the mother cannot give—the mother cannot give her name and now, because the father is a Daesh perpetrator, even the grandparents are very unwilling to give their names. It’s extremely—there’s no religious, because if you are Yazidi and the father is unknown, the child automatically becomes Muslim. So it’s extremely, extremely complex.
To cut a long story short, it’s a very difficult mandate with not a big staff. But I have very good people.
Q: Nathaniel Davis, I teach strategy at West Point.
You mentioned that the focus was on—or your focus was on justice, accountability, and law, which are—which are generally more backward-looking. And my question is, why the focus on justice rather than the present and the future of the women and other victims where greater long-term good may be achieved looking through the lens more of positive action, morality, and policy rather than the legal route?
And as you just mentioned with the prime minister and what he was looking to reach out on, it looks like that’s where many want to engage.
PATTEN: When you meet with survivors and the first thing they tell you they want is justice. It is a century-old problem, sexual violence. And I think what makes it a—it’s almost cost-free as we are talking, it’s almost cost-free to rape until and unless you bring perpetrators to justice.
And I know that international prosecution becomes extremely—is quite rare, but there are some very good examples in places like Colombia, Cuba, Guatemala of local initiatives, of legal professionals, women’s NGOs, women’s human rights defenders having brought a number of cases. And we have a range of good practices that we can—that we can use.
We see difficulties in bringing cases to the ICC, for example, and we see a recent setback that we’ve had now with the acquittal in the case of the Bemba case. I really believe that you need the—you need to have the proper legislative framework in place. And that’s also part of the prevention work. I think so.
Because I have signed a framework of cooperation with the CEDAW Committee, for example. I’m totally in line with the vision of the SG who says prevention is not a priority, it’s the priority. And ensuring that you have 189 states parties that have ratified this convention, ensuring that they honor their legal commitments, ensuring that the legislative framework is in place.
As a CEDAW Committee member, I have, myself, supported states parties in drafting their criminal code, ensuring that you do not have a, for example, provision where a rapist would be let off if he marries the victim. I have drafted victim and witness protection laws. So ensuring that women have access to justice and empowering women.
And that’s why I say it’s a three pillar—it’s a three pillar. It’s reversing that culture of impunity, it’s addressing the root cause, which is gender inequality and discrimination, and having that survivor-centered approach. I think it’s very holistic when you look at the three pillars.
BIGIO: Well, I think this is incredible to hear what you’ve learned from survivors on the priorities and to see the opportunities that you’ve shared with the Security Council, the opportunities of the joint communiqués, and the work being done by governments to tackle this.
I’m sorry we haven’t had the opportunity to get to all of the questions, but please join me in thanking SRSG Patten for joining us today. (Applause.) I know we all wish you good luck in your portfolio.
PATTEN: Thank you.