Statement on Human Security in Armed Conflict: Protection Against Gender-Based Violence

As delivered by Ambassador Anne-Kirsti Karlsen at the FSC Chairpersonship Side Event on Human Security in Armed Conflict, Vienna, 7 February 2024

Mr Chair, dear colleagues,

Human security in armed conflict is an issue that goes to the very heart of the devastating effects of war. War is never contained to the battlefield. Its footprint on the environment, economies, and the structures which organize our societies have cascading effects that remain long after the fighting has ended.

As we have heard, one of war’s many repercussions is the increased prevalence of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). This form of violence victimizes the vulnerable, leaving behind survivors – women, girls, men, and boys – every day around the world.

Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine has proved no exception to the established relationship between armed conflict and the increased risk of violence, including sexual and gender-based violence. Since the full-scale invasion, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine has documented cases of sexual and gender-based violence committed by Russian authorities, including rape and sexual violence. The recounts of these crimes are horrific. They strengthen our claim that Russia’s illegal war of aggression has been carried out with unspeakable brutality, with a clear disregard for international humanitarian law – and with a disregard for human life.

Mr Chair,

Norway is dedicated to strengthening efforts to prevent and combat sexual and gender-based violence in armed conflict, post-conflict situations and during humanitarian crises. Our fifth National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security (WPS), which was released in September last year, articulated our strategy for achieving this aim. The majority of other participating States in this room have undertaken similar efforts to ensure the protection of civilian populations during armed conflict. Most also apply victim-centered approaches when responding to sexual and gender-based violence. We would therefore like to take this opportunity to highlight two issues that are often absent from discussions on the issue of sexual and gender-based violence in armed conflict.

The first is the issue of ‘children born of war’. We have seen over the past decades that one of the many consequences of sexual violence in war is the children who are conceived through rape. The Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten, has noted that policy makers have to date “largely overlooked the protection needs, and indeed the very existence of children born of rape.” Addressing the needs of and challenges faced by these children – including discrimination, stigmatization, and psychological trauma – is crucial to adequately responding to the complex challenge of conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV).

The second issue we would like to shed light on today is sexual and gender-based violence perpetrated against men and boys. I commend our Ukrainian speaker for raising this issue in her introduction. Women and girls are undoubtedly more vulnerable to sexual and gender-based violence, and constitute the majority of its victims. But we must also acknowledge the reality of men and boys also being victims of this type of violence. Even more so, we must recognize that men and boys are subjected to sexual violence to a greater extent than has previously been recognized. This is particularly the case in detention settings, as men and boys are especially vulnerable to arrest and detention in armed conflict. A gender-perspective in identifying, preventing, and responding to sexual and gender-based violence in armed conflict is therefore crucial. Educating and raising awareness of the importance of health-related and psychological services for men and boys – as well as women and girls – is an example of steps that must be taken to respond to survivors of sexual and gender-based violence in wartime. We already heard today that there is a need for such services in Ukraine, as mentioned by our speaker.

Mr Chair, distinguished colleagues,

Allow me to emphasize that international humanitarian law applies to all states; it is not optional. Sexual violence during conflict is prohibited under international humanitarian law, and those responsible for such violations must and will be held accountable. We would like to remind participating States of Code of Conduct Article 29 and 30, which describe our responsibility to educate and instruct armed forces personnel on their individual accountability for their actions under national and international law. Allow me also to mention the OSCE WIN-project, to which Norway is a proud contributor.

Sexual violence constitutes one of the many aspects of gender-based violence. As Dr Scarpitta also noted, we must not lose sight of the varied, and often interlinked forms of gender-based violence that takes place around the world. It is imperative that we work to ensure the elimination of all forms of gender-based violence, both during armed conflict, and in peacetime.

To conclude, let me thank all the speakers for thoughtful and insightful remarks, and our Chair, Cyprus, for placing this extremely relevant and important topic on the agenda.

Thank you.