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Proper healthcare must to support sexual violence survivors

Hospital 2024-06-20, 12:29am


A ward at a hospital in Sudan. Under international law, healthcare facilities must be protected from hostilities. © WHO-Lindsay Mackenzie

19 June 2024 - The United Nations on Wednesday commemorated the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, highlighting the vital role hospital’s play in helping survivors heal.

In his message for the day Secretary-General António Guterres reiterated that the protection of healthcare facilities is a “fundamental tenet” of international humanitarian law, which governs the conduct of war.

“But attacks on hospitals and healthcare facilities, and the targeting of healthcare workers, can severely limit access to medical care and psychosocial support for survivors,” he said.

He also highlighted the long-term impact on women and girls, as well as men and boys.

“Women and girls who experience sexual violence may become pregnant from rape and require immediate sexual and reproductive healthcare. Men and boys may be at risk of increased isolation if they cannot access appropriate care.”

Include survivors in solutions

The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) emphasized the devastating impacts of sexual violence, particularly in conflicts, noting that the voices of women and girl survivors “remain mutated” in decisions on peace and security or humanitarian assistance, isolating them from solutions.

“Life-saving gender-based violence services, which address the needs, rights and wishes of survivors, continue to be insufficient across countries engaged in conflicts,” the agency said in a separate message.

“Survivors, as well as women and girls more generally, must be engaged as leaders of humanitarian-response programming, as they are best placed to create solutions for the challenges they face” UNFPA added, calling for greater funding for protection and support programmes.

A war crime that must be punished

Sexual violence in conflicts is a war crime and perpetrators must be held to account, the sexual and reproductive health agency said. Few cases of conflict-related sexual violence are reported and even fewer investigated or prosecuted.

“Sexual violence destroys lives and violates human rights. It must not be ‘normalized’ as something that is destined to happen, something that cannot be stopped,” Natalia Kanem, UNFPA Executive Director, said.

“We must work together to end this horror, not allow it to endlessly repeat.”

Solidarity with survivors

Civilians, especially vulnerable groups, are under increased threat of sexual violence and other abuses globally amid a multiplication of wars and crises that have forced a record 117 million people to flee their homes and communities.

Attacks on civilian infrastructure, such as healthcare facilities, and their use for military purposes have further deprived survivors of critical services, posing challenges for safe reporting and response.

“Hospitals and other healthcare facilities should be beacons of safety and healing for all those injured in conflict, including the survivors of sexual violence,” Mr. Guterres stressed.

“On this International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, let us pledge to eliminate this scourge, stand in solidarity with survivors, and reaffirm our commitment to protecting hospitals and healthcare facilities during conflict.”

International Day

The UN General Assembly, in 2015, proclaimed 19 June as the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict in June 2015.

The day is commemorated annually to raise awareness of the need to end conflict-related sexual violence, honour the victims and survivors, and pay tribute to those who have stood up for the eradication of these crimes.

The date also marks the adoption in 2008 of Security Council resolution 1820, that condemned sexual violence as a tactic of war and an impediment to peace.

Commemorative events

Several events were held marking the day.

In New York, a special event was hosted by the offices of the UN special envoys on children and armed conflict and on sexual violence in conflict, along with the Permanent Mission of Argentina to the UN.

Discussions focused on attacks against healthcare in conflict-affected areas, with nations reiterating their commitment to addressing conflict-related sexual violence and supporting survivors through a dedicated trust fund.

A microsite was also produced, featuring key messages and important resources, alongside a virtual exhibition on a survivor’s journey. – UN News