As United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) on Sexual Violence in Conflict, I am this week visiting the Central African Republic – which is one of my priority countries – for the first time. I would like to congratulate the people of the Central African Republic on your work toward ensuring a more stable, peaceful and prosperous nation. We know that this has not come easy and that there is still a long road yet to travel.
The country has faced many challenges, including regional and internal political instability, and the displacement of thousands of people. There continues to be serious human rights violations, often against women, children and other vulnerable groups, including sexual violence in conflict.
We know the damage that conflict-related sexual violence inflicts on a person, on a community, and on a country. It degrades and dehumanizes the victim, and it hinders efforts at reconciliation and building an enduring peace once the conflict has ended. Lasting peace can only be achieved when there is security. Security allows children to go to school, makes it safe for people to go to the market, enables farmers and entrepreneurs to grow food and run businesses. In short, security is the foundation of development and the building block of peace. A secure and peaceful Central African Republic has much to offer the world, so we will not let the world forget about you because the stability of the region depends on your success.
Recent developments demonstrate the promise that lies ahead for the country. After more than 25 years of conflict, the Government reached agreements with a number of armed groups in 2008, and started a disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration process in June 2011. The Government has also taken positive steps to address sexual violence in conflict, such as revising the penal code to recognize sexual violence, including rape, as a crime, and incorporating the provisions of the Great Lakes Protocol on Sexual Violence into national legislation. These actions send a message that the Central African Republic is on the road to stability, determined to protect its most vulnerable people, and working to ensure that the full potential of its vast human and natural resources is fully realized.
The goal of my visit is to engage with all stakeholders, from victims of sexual violence to government representatives and religious leaders and rebel groups, to step up the fight against impunity, promote increased services for survivors, and emphasize greater national ownership of this issue. Solutions cannot be imposed from the outside; rather every citizen in a conflict-affected country must invest in putting an end to this scourge. The message we must send to the world is that the Central African Republic is a place of promise and hope, whose citizens are doing the difficult work of building a brighter future from the ashes of conflict.
As a native of Sierra Leone, I know what it means to endure years of armed conflict characterized by massive human rights abuses, including conflict-related sexual violence. Now, a decade after a destructive civil war, there is peaceful voter turnout in my country’s third elections after almost 12 years of one of Africa’s most brutal and devastating wars, Today, all Sierra Leoneans are proud that their country is a troop contributing country to UN peacekeeping missions, an institution that helped restore peace in Sierra Leone and mobilised the world in the rebuilding process. Therefore, I know from experience that a country can recover from years of internal conflict, that justice can be served and peace and reconciliation can be achieved. This must be the future for the Central African Republic as well, therefore we cannot let the conflict be forgotten or ignore the suffering of its people, especially women and children.
Zainab Hawa Bangura is UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) on Sexual Violence in Conflict