Addressing sexual violence central to Mali peace process UN envoy says

During the 11-17 April visit, Zainab Hawa Bangura, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, discussed a joint communiqué that outlines critical actions that must be taken in the areas of security, justice and services.The communiqué will serve as a framework for cooperation for action in key areas such as fighting impunity that is essential for prevention; legislative reform and strengthening the justice system; and, specific action plans of the army and police.One of the critical gaps that must also be addressed is the lack of adequate medical, psychosocial and other services for survivors. The sexual and gender-based violence sector is the most underfunded area of the humanitarian response for Mali, she stressed.The Special Representative also emphasized that the unimaginable suffering of the victims must serve as a collective call to action.“It is our sacred duty to survivors and their families to make this one of the central considerations of the ongoing peace process, because if we do not, it will undermine the possibility and durability of our efforts to resolve the crisis in Mali,” she said. “I stand in solidarity with the victims as well as all those women, children and men who remain acutely vulnerable to sexual violence in Mali and conflicts the world over,” she added.During the visit, she met with Prime Minister Modibo Keita, and held extensive consultations with ministers of defence, security and civilian protection, justice, religious affairs, health and women’s affairs, as well as the heads of the army, police and gendarmerie.She also met with the President of the National Assembly, the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission, religious and community leaders, the diplomatic and donor community, women’s groups, human rights associations, service providers and UN staff.Ms. Bangura also spoke with representatives of armed groups under Coordination des Mouvements de l’Azawad (CMA) and Plateforme who are signatories to the Peace Agreement, to tell them that they must make specific commitments to prevent and punish sexual violence crimes. A majority of violations are being perpetrated by armed groups, as well as the extremist or terrorist groups operating in Mali.She received assurances from religious leaders that they will speak out against conflict-related sexual violence, particularly in the context of violations being committed by extremists such as Ansar Dine, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).“As a Muslim woman, I understand the role religion plays and how it is being used in some contexts, including Mali, to further the strategic objectives of violent extremists groups,” she said. “They are using it as a recruitment incentive to entice fighters with the promise of women, or for fundraising through the trafficking and sale of women and girls. This is an affront to the most sacred and fundamental tenets of Islam.”The Special Representative met with survivors of sexual violence when she visited Timbuktu, in Northern Mali, where a large proportion of conflict-related sexual violence cases have been documented.“Not only do they endure the devastating physical and psychological trauma of rape, but long afterwards they continue to suffer as they and their children are cast out and shunned by husbands, families and communities,” she said. “Sexual violence is the only human rights violation where the stigma and shame are focused on the victims rather than the perpetrators. Everyone has a role to play to change this unacceptable reality and raise the cost and consequences for committing these crimes.”

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