Helen Clark: Opening of Colloquium on Peace Negotiations

Jun 23, 2009

Introductory Remarks by Helen Clark
Administrator of the United Nations Development Progamme
on the occasion of the
Opening of Colloquium on Peace Negotiations and
Security Council Resolution 1820
9 a.m., 23 June 2009, New York

I am very pleased that this eminent group has come together for the Colloquium on Peace Negotiations and Security Council Resolution 1820, and I have come to support your vital work.

On behalf of UN Action against Sexual Violence in Conflict and UNDP, I thank each of you for being here to confront the critical issue of conflict-related sexual violence in the context of international peace and security. 

At the outset, I also thank the Government of Norway and their representative, State Secretary Larsen, for their generous support for this important event.

We are gathered here to try to address one of the most complex issues a peacemaker confronts : how to mediate the end of wars and bring security to human beings.  There are few more serious challenges.

Sexual violence in conflict sadly occurs all over the world. We have seen terrifying and horrifying examples in widely dispersed locations. 

Over the weekend I returned from my first visit as UNDP Administrator to Africa, which included visits to Liberia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  What can one say to women there who have the courage to advocate for those, like themselves, who have contracted HIV/AIDS as a result of rape?

Today in Liberia, while the incidence of rape has dropped since the civil war, it is still incredibly high. Words fail to express the extent of the horror perpetrated or the magnitude of the problem there and elsewhere.   It confirms my belief that if we do not confront sexual violence at a war’s end, high levels of rape will continue denying women a peace dividend.

Put simply, for many women, unabated levels of sexual violence mean that their war does not end with the signing of a peace agreement. 

Security Council Resolution 1820, adopted a year ago, states that “rape and other forms of sexual violence can constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity or a constitutive act with respect to genocide.” This landmark resolution empowers all of us here today with a strong mandate to combat sexual violence against women in conflict zones.

UN Action brings together 12 UN organizations in an initiative to end conflict-related sexual violence.  Together we can work for greater co-ordination and cohesion in the UN’s efforts, as we undertake advocacy, action at the country level and share knowledge and best practice. 

I am committed to advancing this agenda. As Administrator of UNDP, I can also assure you of UNDP’s commitment to strengthen state institutions and promote the rule of law, and, in so doing, to address all forms of violence against women and sexual violence in conflict.

I do not have any illusions that eliminating sexual violence in conflict will be easy. But we can and must do more.

Preventing sexual violence and protecting women’s rights cannot be mere add-ons to ceasefires, peace accords, and prosecutions. On the contrary, addressing these issues is integral to a sustainable peace and establishing the rule of law. Ignoring sexual violence in conflict perpetuates a culture of impunity, undermining prospects for peace building and development.
This means that we must support the full participation of women throughout peace-making and peace-building processes. Security Council Resolution 1820 builds on Resolution 1325, which gives us a strong mandate to promote women's contributions to conflict resolution and building sustainable peace. We must have more women monitoring ceasefires, fostering reconciliation, supporting demobilization, delivering justice, rebuilding communities and shaping government policies. That will help lay the foundation for sustainable peace and development where women are not the objects of violence, but the authors of change.

Yet women’s participation in peacemaking at the end of war will not in itself be enough. More efforts are necessary to prevent sexual violence from the first possible moment.  Expertise on sexual violence is needed to see where it can be addressed in ceasefire arrangements, justice provisions, reparations systems, and disarmament and demobilization.

This colloquium is the first of its kind in bringing together eminent mediators, technical experts, UN staff, and international diplomats to propose guidance on how sexual violence can be addressed in peace negotiations and peace accords.  

To facilitate your work today, the morning discussions will be conducted in accordance with Chatham House rules to ensure confidentiality.  In addressing problems as pernicious as sexual violence, we need to be able to speak frankly and openly. Only then can we begin to develop effective responses to the challenges raised by this grave issue.   

As you set about your important work in some of the most challenging circumstances on earth, it is with the knowledge that if there is  to be true and lasting peace for women, men, and children, the repudiation and destruction which characterizes sexual violence must be confronted.

I wish you success in your deliberations today and look forward to receiving your recommendations.

Thank you.

UNDP Around the world