Speech by UNDP Resident Representative: Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict

May 29, 2014

Opening remarks by UN Resident Coordinator/UNDP Resident Representative Louisa Vinton at conference “Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict:
Delivering Justice for the Past, Preventing Abuse in the Future“

Dobro jutro i dobro došli!
Poštovani gospodine predsjedniče
Poštovani gospodine predsjedniče hrvatskog sabora
Poštovana potpredsjednica vlade i ministrica vanjskih i europskih poslova
Najdraži ministre Fred
Distinguished guests
Dragi prijatelji

On behalf of the United Nations family and the United Nations Development Programme, it is truly an honor to open this regional conference on the topic of sexual violence in armed conflict, and to welcome such a distinguished group of speakers and panellists. 

At the very outset, let me thank the Ministry of Veterans' Affairs for organizing this event and salute the Minister's unwavering commitment to address the decades of injustice suffered by victims of wartime sexual violence. 

UNDP is very proud to support this initiative and even prouder to have contributed to the preparation of a new law that will extend recognition to all victims of wartime sexual violence in Croatia and finally realize their rights to reparations, financial compensation, and support. 

Fighting sexual violence in conflict, and indeed all sexual violence, is currently at the top of the United Nations' global agenda. It is a top priority for our Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, and I'd like to share with you now a video statement that he has recorded for this conference. 

Ladies and gentlemen, 

For UNDP in Croatia, this conference is the culmination of a journey that began more than two years ago in Vukovar. 

At the initiative of the President and in partnership with Marija Slišković and her Sunčica association of victims of sexual violence during the war, we helped to provide a platform for a few courageous women to share the horrific violence they had experienced; detail the neglect they had suffered at the hands of police, prosecutors and the healthcare system; and convey the devastating impact, over more than two decades, on their lives and families. Their experiences – the social stigma, the isolation, the despair, the impenetrable silence, the unbearable wait for justice and social recognition – are something, unfortunately, they share with rape victims everywhere. 

Let me stress that this applies as much to rape committed in peacetime as it does to rape committed in war. The message we would like to share with you during this conference is that this vision of broken lives and heartbreaking injustice is not inevitable. We can change this, and we can change this now. 

We see a world increasingly committed to fighting the impunity so commonly enjoyed by perpetrators of rape. Punishing perpetrators is a crucial goal. But here, over the next two days, we want to focus on the rights and needs of the victims – or as we prefer to say, the survivors. 

What we believe, and what we know now from two years of experience, is that the survivors of sexual violence are not helpless victims to be pitied and comforted and somehow hidden from public view, but resilient women and men who stand ready to reclaim their lives, if offered the proper support, encouragement and recognition. 

Later in our proceedings, we will be sharing brief video statements from three survivors of wartime rape. We think you will be surprised at what you see – especially those of you who joined us in Vukovar two years ago. 

We see, in the transformations of our friends Đurđica, Ružica and Nenad, that it is possible to triumph over silence and stigma; that it is possible to rebuild a normal life; that it is possible to smile and laugh again. This, to us, is the truest meaning of justice. So we call on you all to help us extend the same opportunity to the thousands of victims who continue to suffer in silence. 

Ladies and gentlemen, 

Since my mandate in Croatia draws to a close in a few short weeks, and this is my last speech in this capacity, allow me to conclude on a personal note. UNDP’s work in Croatia is wide-ranging and innovative, and we are proud of the many contributions we have made, particularly to the revitalization of war-affected areas. But it is only in our work on sexual violence that I have actually heard someone say the amazing words that, thanks to our support, “I am a completely new person.” 

After four memorable years in this beautiful and bewitching country, this is the memory I will cherish most.
Thank you all for your partnership and friendship.