Press Release

Brussels Symposium Participants Call for Zero Tolerance of Sexual Violence in War-Affected Countries

23 Jun 2006

BRUSSELS, Belgium — Delegates from more than 30 countries called today for urgent action to prevent and respond to sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict areas.

The representatives of governments, the European Commission, civil society and the United Nations drafted a call to action on the final day of the International Symposium on Sexual Violence in Conflict and Beyond. The draft statement calls on governments, international organizations and civil society to prioritize the issue of sexual violence in all humanitarian, peacebuilding and development efforts in countries affected by conflict.

“There must be zero tolerance for acts of gender-based violence and zero tolerance for complacency by governments and other institutions responsible for the safety and well-being of women, men and children affected by conflict,” states the agreement. It outlines some 20 actions to be taken, ranging from ending impunity for perpetrators to developing national action plans to address the issue.

The three-day symposium was co-convened by UNFPA, the European Commission and the Government of Belgium.

“We must address this issue with hope, passion and compassion,” said UNFPA’s Executive Director, Thoraya Ahmed Obaid. “We can talk about this issue until we’re blue in the face, but if the leadership of governments doesn’t insist that this issue is on the table, we won’t make progress. Governments must live up to their promises to make ending sexual violence a priority.”

Representatives from 14 conflict-affected countries presented their national action plans, addressing sexual and gender-based violence at the symposium. Delegates from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burundi, Central African Republic, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Indonesia, Liberia, the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Uganda recounted their experience and efforts to combat sexual violence and its effects on survivors, families and communities attempting recovery and reconstruction. They asked for renewed support from international donors and humanitarian agencies in their fight against such crimes.

“The challenge is not only to raise awareness of violence against women, but to maintain a long-term commitment by all these actors to address gender-based violence as an impediment to economic development, a public health problem and a violation of fundamental human rights,” said Armand De Decker, Belgian Minister of Cooperation and Development, in a statement at Friday’s closing ceremony.

The call to action notes that a lack of consistent political action and reliable funding has hindered efforts to address sexual violence in conflict and recovery settings, so that the needs of vulnerable populations are not being met adequately. Participants called for a more long-term, holistic approach to meet the health, education, legal, psychosocial and security concerns of affected populations.

Women, youth and other vulnerable populations, including refugees and internally displaced people must be involved in national plans to address sexual and gender-based violence. Plans should include strategies on sexual and reproductive, health including HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care. The prevention of gender-based violence in national plans would be considered as an indicator of good governance.

“Sexual violence is unacceptable and should stop now,” said Lieve Fransen, Head of Human and Social Development for the European Commission. “Let’s keep ourselves accountable and stop gender-based violence not only for ourselves but for our children and their future.”

Many of the national delegates said they valued the sharing of lessons learned from their colleagues around the globe at the symposium and planned to use the information in their countries.

“I’ve learned that most of the challenges I’m facing are universal. It’s very healthy to know that you’re not alone in the field,” said Judith Mirembe of the Christian Children’s Fund working in the northern Uganda on gender-based and domestic violence.

“It’s an issue that touches everyone – men and women,” agreed Admiral Jaime Parra, from the Colombian Ministry of Defence. “As a member of the military, I want to put an end to a problem that affects everyone. We have to work very hard so that people have solid knowledge of the importance of respect so they don’t commit acts of violence and take advantage of their power.”

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The United Nations Population Fund is an international development agency that promotes the rights of every woman, man and child to enjoy a life of health and equal opportunity. UNFPA supports countries in using population data for policies and programmes to reduce poverty and to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe, every young person is free of HIV/AIDS, and every girl and woman is treated with dignity and respect.

Contact Information:

UNFPA Brussels: David Del Vecchio, tel. +32 (0) 498 62 45 09, delvecchio@unfpa.org; or Angela Walker, tel. +32 (0) 479 85 48 25, awalker@unfpa.org;

UNFPA New York: Abubakar Dungus, tel. +1 212-297-5031, dungus@unfpa.org

European Commission: Norbert Sagstetter, tel. +32 (0) 2 299 2848, norbert.sagstetter@cec.eu.int

Government of Belgium: Erik Silance, tel. + 32 (0) 475 75 62 88, erik.silance@diplobel.fed.be

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