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Historical archive

Women and violence – from UN resolutions to practice

Historical archive

Published under: Stoltenberg's 2nd Government

Publisher Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Oslo, 19 June 2009

State Secretary Håkon A. Gulbrandsen gave this speech at a seminar on women and violence. He spoke together with UN Vice General Secretary Asha-Rose Migiro at Norwegian Institute of International Affairs.

I would like to welcome you all to this seminar on Women and violence.

In addition, I would like to thank Dr. Asha-Rose Migiro, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations for joining us from the UN Head Quarter in New York. I would also like to thank Kjetil Stuland, Chairman of the Board of NUPI, for hosting this meeting.

The subject we are about to discuss is one which has been gravely neglected by the international community. Not in terms of condemnations and high political promises but in terms of action! Fortunately, violence against women is getting more political attention internationally. We must take advantage of this momentum and push for concrete decisions to be taken and measures to be implemented.

A few days back a Norwegian newspaper published the story of a three-year-old girl who died as a result of being raped by a rebel fighter in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where armed forces are committing increasing numbers of sexual attacks. Three of the infant victim's sisters, aged 12, 14 and 17, were also raped by combatants. 

This specific case is a tragic and horrendous story, but more importantly it is not unique. These types of atrocities occur on a continuous basis with tragic consequences not only for the individual but for the whole community and leaves lasting scars for many generations to come making reconstruction of sustainable peace extremely difficult.

In the little girl’s homeland, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, an average of 40 women are raped every day. In the early 1990s 20 000 to 50 000 women were raped during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina and 250 000 – 500 000 women were raped during the Rwandan genocide.

It is pertinent that these barbaric acts are not viewed as separate individual occurrences. In many cases they are calculated tactics of war and should be treated as such. We all have to do our part to bring crimes of rape and sexual violence in armed conflict and crisis higher on the international security policy agenda. The systematic use of rape is a war crime. It  is not a “women’s issue” alone; it is a core security issue of our time and requires strategic comprehensive response from all relevant parts of the international community.

An important step towards preventing sexual violence in conflict was taken in June last year when the Security Council adopted resolution 1820 on “Women, peace and security, sexual violence in situations of armed conflict”. The resolution demands increased efforts to protect women and girls. The Security Council recognised sexual violence as a security problem – a problem that requires a systematic security response. The adoption of resolution 1820 has ended the debate on whether or not sexual violence belongs on the Security Council agenda. There should be no doubt that it belongs there. The Council must give sexual violence the same attention as other threats against international peace and security. Resolution 1820 gives the Council a clear mandate to do so. We eagerly await the Secretary General’s report on the implementation of resolution 1820, and expect it to be forceful and comprehensive, resulting in strong responses from the Council.

However, the progress so far has been limited. We have to ask ourselves: are we doing enough? Are we making use of all the available mechanisms that we have at our disposal?

Women and girls who are refugees or internally displaced are particularly vulnerable to sexual assault and sexual violence because of the conditions of dependency that are often created in camps. The distribution of food, the need to fetch water and fuel outside the camp area and poor sanitation are all factors that contribute to this vulnerability. The NGOs and UN are doing an important work, but we still need to get better practical answers to this challenge.


To combat sexual violence effectively we need to acknowledge the complexity of the challenge. Progress in one area of concern is ultimately dependent on moving forward on a number of fronts.

For instance, it is vital that the Security Council makes use of the most effective measures at its disposal, including targeted sanctions, to make clear to the perpetrators that the UN takes its commitment to the protection of women and children seriously. The Security Council should refer violations against women and children in armed conflict to the International Criminal Court for investigation and prosecution when national governments fail to carry out their responsibility to protect civilians.

Also as Member states it is our prerogative to make sure that relevant UN entities in the field - be it funds and programs or a peacekeeping mission – strengthen their focus and resources in order to sufficiently fulfil their mandate to protect women and girls.

A promising approach to the fight against rape is UN Action against Sexual Violence in Conflict. UN Action is a network that unites the work of 12 UN entities to prevent all forms of gender based violence, including sexual violence in conflict. It is a concerted effort by the UN to improve coordination and accountability, amplify programming and advocacy, and support national efforts to prevent sexual violence and respond effectively to the needs of survivors. Norway supports the work of UN Action and gives high priority to increased cooperation among UN agencies in delivering as one for gender equality and women`s rights.  

One important aspect in bringing the resolution into practice is to develop efficient tools and resources that can make countries, institutions and organisations, as well as people, accountable for the implementation of the resolutions 1325 and 1820. We need to create mechanisms for measuring the implementation of the resolutions and the results achieved. Such mechanisms should include not only quantitative indicators, but also qualitative ones. In this regard I would like to stress the importance of synergies being made between the monitoring mechanisms established to support the implementation of resolution 1612 and resolutions 1325 and 1820. These parallel processes should support each other. Progress in one area should be beneficial to the other.

The UN has a central role in assisting Member states in their efforts to achieve these goals even though the work of the UN in the area of gender remains fragmented and underfunded. If the UN is to become increasingly effective in combating violence against women, Norway believes that a stronger and more defined coherent UN approach to gender equality is a matter of urgency. Together with our Nordic counterparts we believe there is a strong link between improving the security for women and the achievement of the international development goals.

In conclusion, let me underline that there can be neither peace nor security as long as communities live under the shadow of sexual violence as a tactic of war. We must continue to look for solutions rather than obstacles. Norway will continue to be at the forefront of efforts to protect women`s rights and assist women in armed conflict. It is only by mobilising our combined strengths – governments, NGOs, academics and others, inside countries and among countries – that we will be able to make a difference. We cannot let these girls and women down. Not in DR Congo and not in all those other conflicts where brute violence targets girls and women.


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