Sexual violence in conflict : New UN Envoy Zainab Bangura to seek solutions by engaging African Governments and regional and sub-regional organizations
By KABS KANU :
The newly-appointed United Nations Under-Secretary General , Sierra Leonean-born Mrs. Zainab Bangura, has unveiled to UN-assigned African ambassadors and diplomats her central priorities and strategies for addressing the scourge of sexual violence during conflict .The former Minister of Health and Sanitation of Sierra Leone , Mrs. Bangura , who was hired by the UN to tackle conflict-related sexual violence , briefed the African UN Permanent Representatives, their deputies and diplomatic representatives at the Headquarters of the Permanent Observer Mission of the African Union (AU) in New York on Wednesday September 19, 2012.
For over an hour, Mrs. Bangura, who is also a one time Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sierra Leone , held the diplomats spellbound as she announced her many-pronged approach to end sexual violence during conflict in Africa and when she finished, many ambassadors and representatives of various African countries congratulated her for her appointment and expressed their countries’ support for her plans. They were impressed by Mrs. Bangura’s blueprint to combat one of the most prevalent problems during conflicts.
Describing the briefing as her first meeting with any of the regional groupings , she felt that it was necessary to begin her tenure “at home “(With African diplomats ).
The new UN Envoy stated that the dilemma of sexual violence in conflict is not only a UN problem but “an issue that belongs to member states , who ultimately bear the primary, and indeed moral responsibility, to ensure the protection and wellbeing of their citizens “. In this regard, she went on, “the emphasis on national ownership, leadership and responsibility in addressing sexual violence will be among my central priorities in taking forward this mandate “.
Mrs. Bangura considered the engagement with African countries , as well as Africa’s regional and sub-regional organizations , as a critical priority for her mandate . “I believe that African countries must play a central role in shaping the policies and direction of the conflict-related sexual violence mandate in the Security Council into the future “, she emphasized , and to this end, she hoped that the African diplomats will view her office as one of their main resources for information , advocacy and technical expertise in support of their national efforts and initiatives. She further informed the Group that : “In my capacity as Special Representative , I chair the UN Action Network composed of 13 UN entities working together to address all conflict-related sexual violence . In this capacity, I hope to bring to bear the collective energy of the UN System in support of national stakeholders , as we work on countries as diverse as Libya, the DRC , Columbia and Bosnia Herzegovina.”
Mrs. Bangura , who was also the leader of Sierra Leone’s women’s rights’ movement during the heady days of military junta rule in the country in the late 1990s, also told the diplomats that “Even as we strengthen our collaboration here in New York , it is my intention to engage directly with the African Union and to pick this issue with Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini -Zuma and her commissioners. ” She expressed pride and delight that ” Our sister from South Africa ( Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini -Zuma ) had been elected as the first female head of the African Union Commission ” and hoped that “together we will be able to make further headway”.
Another plan Mrs. Bangura intends to pursue is “Direct engagement at subregional and national levels to deepen dialogue with African Governments and to discuss areas for strengthened collaboration on this issue. ” She asserted that “It is not credible, or even possible , to advance the ‘development agenda’ without providing safety and security for the most vulnerable among us. ”
Mrs. Bangura enjoined the African diplomats : ”We have to work together also to address some fundamental misconceptions about the issue,” which includes the notion that sexual violence in conflict is an African problem . She discredited this misconception , stating that violence-related sexual violence is not an African problem but is in fact a global phenomenon , “and as such, this mandate will continue to focus on conflict-related violence wherever it occurs”. Addressing the other misconception ,which is that sexual violence during conflict is cultural, Mrs. Bangura said “There is no culture in the world that encourages and allows its women to be humiliated and degraded “.
Mrs. Bangura expressed confidence that conflict-related sexual violence “is a phenomenon that we can eradicate ” She asserted very strongly that for this eradication of sexual violence during conflict to be achieved political leadership and political courage will be absolutely crucial. “I believe that African leaders must show the way , and ‘lead from the front ‘. National ownership is essential”, she reiterated.
She looked forward to working closely with the African diplomats and she promised that she will continue to seek their perspectives and advice along the way. She strongly believed that their joint efforts can yield tangible results and create a changed environment on the ground for those affected by “this terrible scourge “.
The Chairman of the African Group for the month of September, Burundi’s Permanent Representative, H.E. Herménégilde Niyonzima, thanked Mrs. Bangura for briefing the Group and acknowledged that conflict-related sexual violence is a serious problem and is gratified that the UN Secretary General had decided to treat the matter upfront.
Then followed a question-and-answer period during which the Under-Secretary General fielded questions from diplomatic representatives from Benin, South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya and Sudan.