Sexual Violence Being Used As A “Tactic Of Terror” To Target Religious And Ethnic Minorities : Zainab Bangura

Interview with Zainab Hawa Bangura, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict

Zainab Hawa Bangura, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict. UN Photo/Amanda Voisar


– Sexual violence is being used as a “tactic of terror” to target religious and ethnic minorities and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities, according to Zainab Hawa Bangura, the United Nations official dealing with the issue.

This is among the findings of the latest report by Ms. Bangura, who is the Secretary-General’sSpecial Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict. In an interview with the UN News Centre, the envoy previewed the findings of the report, which also highlights the crimes committed by non-State actors such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Boko Haram and Al-Shaabab, including abducting, raping, and selling into slavery women and girls. These groups are also using sexual violence as a method to forcefully displace large numbers of people in order to exploit resource-rich land or use it to grow narcotics.

Sexual violence is being used as a tactic of terror and this is because of the rise of extremists and terrorist groups.

The international community does not yet have the tools to deal with these non-State actors, Ms. Bangura says, emphasizing the need for the Security Council to work closely with all Member States to figure out how to form the most effective response to deal with the growing threat. For countries where sexual violence is perpetrated, political commitment is key in tackling the scourge. To that end, she notes that progress has been made in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Somalia, Colombia and Côte d’Ivoire. The following interview has been edited for content and clarity.

Excerpts from interview with Special Representative Zainab Hawa Bangura. Credit: United Nations

UN News Centre: Can you tell us how you pulled together elements of this new report that you will be presenting to the Security Council on Wednesday?

Zainab Hawa Bangura: The report comes through with information from peacekeeping, political missions, and United Nations country teams. It’s an elaborate process, very intense, and scrutinized because we also include information from Member States and sometimes from non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The information we collect needs to be verified because it’s very difficult and very delicate to be able to specifically state that sexual violence has taken place in a certain country. So the information we collect is a combination of UN peacekeeping and political missions, Member States and the UN’s NGO colleagues.

UN News Centre: And what are some of the trends you found this year? What’s new in the findings?

Zainab Hawa Bangura: The first and most important and difficult trend that we have experienced is that sexual violence is being used as a tactic of terror and this is because of the rise of extremists and terrorist groups. They move across countries, and are transnational and trans-regional in nature. This is very challenging for us to address. We’ve seen it in Mali. We’ve seen it in Nigeria with Boko Haram. We’ve seen it Somalia with Al-Shabaab and now in Yemen, Syria, and of course in Iraq.

Special Representative Zainab Hawa Bangura meets with women’s groups and victims of sexual violence in Bria, Central African Republic during her first official field visit (December 2012). UN Photo/Cristina Silveiro

The second trend we found is that religious and ethnic minorities are being targeted, as well as members of the LGBT communities, and these crimes are increasing. The third trend, which seems to come in a much clearer way, is that sexual violence in conflict is being used to forcefully displace people. People are forced out of their communities and off their land because the land is rich in natural resources or because groups want to use it to grow narcotics as is the case in Colombia. Some groups forcefully drive people off their land because they just want to occupy it as in the case with ISIL.

UN News Centre: As you have mentioned, this recent upsurge of non-State actors involved in sexual violence – Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab and ISIL – makes it difficult to hold someone accountable for the crimes. What can the United Nations do to help victims?

Zainab Hawa Bangura: I think the biggest challenge we have is a lack of understanding about the strategies that these people use and I think that has made it extremely difficult to access them, to engage them, to understand what is driving them and what they do. The most important thing is to make sure we have more community engagement, make sure that communities who are involved in this crime, as well as community and religious leaders give us a better understanding of the extent of the crime, the people who have been targeted and to respond in terms of services for the victims. It’s the biggest challenge we have but that’s what we’re hoping to engage and it’s one of those things that I’m hoping to do.

UN News Centre: What can Member States do on the ground to alieve the situation?

Zainab Hawa Bangura: We have seen an increase in commitment from Member States, a better understanding, the acceptance that sexual violence is a crime, and a reduction in the culture of denial and silence. So what Member States need to do now is actually increase their engagement and support in terms of resources, in terms of taking the necessary action and ensuring commitment.

Special Representative Zainab Hawa Bangura (right) speaks with other delegates on the margins of the Security Council meeting on “women and peace and security” (June 2013). UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz

But it’s also important for other Member States to be able to put in the resources. It’s not easy to deal with sexual violence because it requires capacity-building, providing technical assistance and support, changing laws, working with the judiciary to make sure that this crime is investigated and that the perpetrators are prosecuted. Survivors must be provided with the necessary services, including psychosocial, medical, and legal support and livelihood support.

So I think the countries where these crimes are being committed have to make sure they have the political will and commitment. The donors who are supporting them need to make sure they provide the resources to support these countries so that they take the necessary action.

UN News Centre:  We hear the stories, ISIL in the Middle East, Boko Haram in Africa, they kidnap, rape and sell into slavery girls and women, and most of the time, if not all of the time, they do it with impunity. They discount international treaties and norms. Does the international community have the tools to deal with these non-State actors?

Zainab Hawa Bangura: The last couple of years the Security Council and United Nations have engaged on this issue, it has been with States and Governments. We know them; we have been working with them for so long; we understand their strategies; we know their command structures. Unfortunately, this is not the case anymore. The non-State actors we are used to working with at the UN are local militia, so it is easier to fight them. For example, in the DRC we call them negative forces, and a special response was developed by the Security Council to deal with these forces.

Special Representative Zainab Hawa Bangura meets with a women’s group in Paoua, Central African Republic (December 2012). UN Photo/Cristina Silveiro

But these new non-State actors are different. They are very sophisticated; they are well-organized; they have developed structures; they are controlling [massive amounts of] land; and they are not just in one country. They communicate with each other and they are using modern technology tools to actually implement a medieval mentality against women. So we don’t have the tools and that’s why we are working very closely with the Security Council to be able to better understand who they are, where they come from and how we can respond. So to answer your question, we don’t have the tools and we need to develop better ones to engage them. It’s a lesson we are all learning together.

UN News Centre: There is some good news. Your report says that some countries have made strides in tackling sexual violence in conflict and have also provided support to survivors. In which area has the most progress been made?

Zainab Hawa Bangura: The biggest gains have been made in the area of increasing political commitment, ownership and national leadership by countries where these crimes are being committed.  The most progress has been made in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, Colombia, and Côte d’Ivoire. And that is because leaders in those countries have decided and agreed that sexual violence in conflict is a crime that is happening and that we must take the leadership to deal with these crimes. In such cases, progress has been really moving forward.

UN News Centre: You travel to these affected countries and meet with a lot of survivors of sexual violence and you hear their heart-wrenching stories. How do you stay inspired and encouraged? 

Zainab Hawa Bangura:  What astounds me is the resilience of the survivors and the victims I meet with. I think my visiting all of these countries provides hope by me trying to understand the crime. And I think lots of the time the women just want somebody to understand. I visited Colombia about a month ago and I sat around the table and had lunch with some survivors, after telling me all the stories, and listening to them and talking to them, literally each one of them started crying and they said you know, you are the first person who has taken time to listen to us, now we know we can fight. And they are prepared to get up and move on with their lives. So for me that is what is important.

Special Representative Zainab Hawa Bangura’s visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (March 2013)

We cannot stop the crime taking place as long as there is conflict so we need to end the conflict but in the meanwhile we also need to give hope to these women. I have seen them getting on, picking up the pieces of their lives, going into business. I’ve even seen in my country, Sierra Leone, survivors hiring the people who have committed crimes against them. So these are for me the stories that really move and give me the inspiration to continue doing the job.

UN News Centre: Sexual violence in conflict doesn’t just affect women. Your report warns about the dangers of underreporting sexual violence against men. Why do you think there is still such stigma attached to that?

Zainab Hawa Bangura: Sexual violence generally is a stigmatized crime and the victim is left to bear the brunt of the stigma. Sometimes they are ostracized, abandoned by their own community. So for men, for women, for boys, and girls, it is a crime that is stigmatized. However, because we have worked so closely with dealing with sexual violence against women we haven’t paid a lot of attention to sexual violence against men.

But it has always been there. In the Bosnian war, I met a victim who was raped and forced to rape his own son. Sexual violence against men is usually done in prison, in detention facilities, and men have been reluctant to come out and talk about it. We have found out that when you talk about men being targeted in prison, it is sexual violence but we have always looked at it as torture.

The one thing I can say for sure, for men or women, victims of sexual violence in combat have become much younger. I have met a three-month-old and a six-month-old victim. But I have also met 70- and 80-year-old women survivors. So we are hoping that because it’s coming out in our report, our response will be better coordinated.

Amazonian tribes unite to demand Brazil stop hydroelectric dams

 Members of the Munduruku indigenous tribe dance along the Tapajós river during a ‘Caravan of Resistance’ protest in November. Photograph: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Members of the Munduruku indigenous tribe dance along the Tapajós river during a ‘Caravan of Resistance’ protest in November. Photograph: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Four Amazonian tribes have joined forces to oppose the construction of hydroelectric dams in their territory as the Brazilian government ramps up efforts to exploit the power of rivers in the world’s biggest forest.

The Munduruku, Apiaká, Kayabi and Rikbaktsa released a joint statement on Thursday demanding the halt of construction on a cascade of four dams on the Teles Pires – a tributary of the Tapajós.

They say the work at the main area of concern – the São Manoel dam – threatens water quality and fish stocks. The site has already reportedly expanded almost to the edge of a nearby village, although the local communities say they have not been consulted as they obliged to be under national laws and international standards.

A young child wears traditional face paint during a “Caravan of Resistance’” protest. Photograph: Mario Tama/Getty Images

A young child wears traditional face paint during a “Caravan of Resistance’” protest. Photograph: Mario Tama/Getty Images

“The government builds dams without completing environmental studies, without seeking to understand the consequences of the destruction of nature in our lives. It authorizes the operation of dams without giving a response to indigenous people and leaving their lives without fish, without water, without hunting as they try to hide their negative impacts on our lives, our rivers and our territories,” the statement read.

Members of the indigenous coalition told the Guardian they were prepared to escalate their protest if their requests are ignored.

“If the demands aren’t met, I’ll have to occupy the construction site. They can’t do what they are doing without listening to us,” said Valdenir Munduruku, one of the leaders of the alliance.

The four tribes often clashed violently with one another until the 19th century, when they first formed an alliance against European colonialists who were confiscating their lands and stealing their people to use as slaves.

Juliana de Paula Batista, a lawyer and indigenous activist, said the groups had reaffirmed their unity in recent years against the growing threat posed by hydropower.

“Right now, it is a really serious situation. The tribes feel the urgency because the builders are just 500 metres from the village with no consultation or alternatives with the tribe. Elsewhere, they are building on sacred sites,” she said.

The Teles Pires dams are likely to be just the start of increased development of the region’s hydro-potential. Even bigger projects go up for auction on the lower Tapajós this year, including a dam at São Luiz that would directly flood territory claimed by the Munduruku.

Brazil is rushing to provide low-carbon energy for its population. The government says this is necessary to support development of the country and to meet goals for greenhouse emission cuts.

More than 250 dams are planned in the Amazon – the world’s most important centre for biodiversity – according to the WWF, which has urged greater environmental care and consultation with local communities ahead of building such projects.

Numerous legal appeals have been launched against the dams, which disrupt water systems far beyond the immediate areas affected by reservoir flooding. Several lower courts have found in favour of the tribes and their supporters, but the hold-ups tend to prove temporary.

“They have ridden roughshod over the law. In every case the government has intervened using the excuse of a ‘threat to national security’ – an artifice going back to military dictatorship,” said Brent Millikan of International Rivers, who says the process on environmental impact assessment is also pushed through with undue haste and inadequate study. “Problems are being swept under carpet because of the rush to build these things as fast as possible. It is the indigenous people who are affected.”


Humanitarian crisis in the Central African Republic: lack of funding threatens the free-access to healthcare

27 APRIL, 2015 ¦ BANGUI – A drastic shortage in funding is jeopardizing free access to health care services being provided by the World Health Organization and partners in the Central African Republic for hundreds of thousands of people.

The WHO Representative to the Central African Republic, Dr Michel Yao, says the humanitarian crisis wracking the country has displaced approximately 200 000 people and put around 1.5 million people at risk. Increased effort and funding, he says, is needed to prevent the crisis in the Central African Republic being “forgotten crisis.”

“This year we are really suffering in terms of funding the WHO operations in the Central African Republic” Dr Yao says. “WHO has a gap of more than US$ 14 million and have received only US$ 500 000 this year. The needs for the whole humanitarian health sector are even greater, with another almost US$40 million needed by Health Cluster partners, with less than US$1.5 million provided. The health sector is very challenging. The Central African Republic, for example, has among the world’s highest child and maternal mortality rates.”

Only 55% of the health facilities in Central African Republic are functioning, and they mostly rely on the support of nongovernmental organizations and UN agencies like the WHO, who are collaborating has part of the Health Cluster response. In 2014, Health Cluster partners delivered medical supplies for the treatment of 800 000 patients and provided health care for more than 615 000 people in the Central African Republic.

“WHO supports the people in the Central African Republic by providing free access to health care,” Dr Yao explains. “Outside the capital, Bangui, there is a real challenge to provide this health care if we don’t have funding. If some of the public health facilities do not open, it will make it difficult for people who have moved to Bangui for security and economic reasons to return home. This will mean the overall crisis will not be solved.”

WHO is also filling gaps in disease surveillance, responding to outbreaks and planning health services in coordination with health humanitarian partners.

“One past donor, for example, is not providing funds for the Central African Republic this year as its funding is going towards other crises, like Syria and Yemen,” Dr Yao adds. “I am afraid that we are still a forgotten crisis and this year is even worse than before.”

Dr Yao says the reduced violence in the country means that fewer people are suffering from conflict-related injuries now than one year ago. “But today we have a large displaced population that will soon have no access to healthcare because they cannot pay for it,” Dr Yao says. “Any displacement increases the risk of communicable diseases because people are living in very poor conditions.”

Without a major injection of funding, humanitarian health services will stop delivering conflict-related injuries and they will only be delivering routine care, such as maternal and child health services and treatment for non communicable diseases like heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

WHO sending in more medical supplies and assisting the arrival of foreign medical team support for earthquake-ravaged Nepal

NEW DELHI ¦ GENEVA ¦ 27 APRIL 2015 – WHO is surging additional medical supplies and health workers into the earthquake-affected region to help the Government of Nepal provide rapid medical assistance to the thousands who have been injured in Saturday’s disaster.

“WHO has deployed eight more emergency health kits containing essential medicines, disposables and instruments to cover the health needs of 80 000 people for the next 3 months,” said Dr Poonam Khetrapal, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia Region. “An additional 5 emergency health kits are being flown in along with surgical kits and trauma bags to meet the immediate health needs. There is an urgent need to replenish medical stocks to support the emergency response efforts.”

In addition, WHO is working in collaboration with Nepal’s Ministry of Health to coordinate the arrival and deployment of the medical teams coming from other countries and nongovernmental organizations, commonly called foreign medical teams (FMTs). As of today, at least 20 foreign medical teams have offered support to the country and have registered with WHO. The first teams are expected to arrive in Kathmandu tonight.

“Each team that has registered is committed to ensuring that the Nepalese people impacted by this disaster will get treated by the most appropriate health workers and equipment,” says Dr Ian Norton, head of the WHO FMT initiative. “Such support is essential in this early phase of trauma care. Every hour counts with trauma care. The response is time critical.”

Some 30 of Nepal’s 75 districts have been impacted, with 11 priority districts identified as in greatest need of humanitarian relief. Thousands of affected people require access to health care for emergency needs and for pre-existing conditions.

Injuries caused by this earthquake are similar to what we have seen after earthquakes of this magnitude: many who were trapped in buildings as they collapsed have lost their lives. Survivors have injuries ranging from broken bones, head trauma, spinal injuries and crush syndrome. These types of injuries require intensive and rapid medical treatment and some will require surgery.

The foreign medical teams deploying to Nepal meet the minimum standards required to be part of this life-saving initiative, which include being able to:

provide initial emergency care of injuries for outpatients;
deliver inpatient acute care, general and obstetric surgery for trauma and other major conditions;
ensure complex inpatient referral surgical care, including intensive care capacity;
be self-sufficient and capable of providing care upon arrival.
WHO has established an organization-wide coordination mechanism to mobilize experts to support the health sector in Nepal to respond to this crisis, Dr Singh said.

A surge team comprising of an emergency operation commander, 2 epidemiologists and 2 logisticians have been deployed to strengthen WHO support.

Within 24 hours of the earthquake, WHO provided the first tranche of USD 175 000 to the Government of Nepal from the South-East Asia Regional Health Emergency Fund to meet the immediate health needs of the earthquake-affected people in Nepal.

Government to continue building RSLAF’s capacity to the highest level of professionalism-VP Foh

John Baimba Sesay-Freetown
On behalf of His Excellency President Ernest Bai Koroma who is Minister of Defence and Commander in Chief of the Sierra Leone Armed Forces(RSLAF),Vice President Victor Bockarie Foh informed the Republic of Sierra Leone Amed Forces that Government would do all it could to build on their capacity “to the highest level of professionalism in the dischareg of their responsibilities”.

The Vice President during the official handing over ceremony of 6(Six) newly constructed Billets, a Guard Room and a Borehole at the Peace Mission Training Centre, at Hastings, Freetown.

The Vice President during the official handing over ceremony of 6(Six) newly constructed Billets, a Guard Room and a Borehole at the Peace Mission Training Centre, at Hastings, Freetown.

Vice President Ambassador Victor Bockarie Foh spoke on Friday 24th April at the official handing over ceremony of 6(Six) newly constructed Billets, a Guard Room and a Borehole at the Peace Mission Training Centre, at Hastings, Freetown.
According to the Vice President, after Sierra Leone’s civil war in 2002, there was the urgent need to “reform, restructure and transform the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces” with the aim of capacitating them to be able to respond timely and efficiently to challenges that would require their interventions.
This transformation, he went on, was to happen through the efforts of successive Governments and with the support of the country’s International Development Partners like the United Kingdom, United States of America, the PR China, Ghana and Nigeria as well as Regional and International Organizations Like ECOWAS, AU, and the UN who gave to RSLAF, support in the form of providing logistics, equipments and training “which had, and continue to enhance the professional standard of the
The handing over ceremony of newly constructed Billets, Guard Room and Borehole, the Vice President said, was a remarkable gesture from the United Kingdom through the International Security and Advisory Team (ISAT).
The Vice President expressed optimism, that the 6 Billets for trainees, a Guard Room, and a Bore Hole will “not only minimize the existing infrastructural challenges, but also, enhance professionalism in the RSLAF.” With these additional facilities, he said, the RSLAF will continue to excel both at home and at the International Peace Support and Enforcement Operations.
On behalf of the President and People of Sierra Leone, VP Foh thanked all those who in diverse ways contributed to the execution of the project whilst giving special thanks to the Government of the United Kingdom adding that , as a country, Sierra Leone looks forward to “taking our relationship with the United Kingdom and all our Partners to another productive level in the coming years”
On existing challenges facing the RSLAF, Vice President Foh said, “Government is aware of these challenges and along the lines of those challenges and beyond, a number of projects and programmes have been outlined, and the Road Maps to implementing them are clearly defined”
“Some of these projects include the on-going construction of the family accommodation in Gondama Barracks in the Southern Region; the provision of new fleet of vehicles currently in the RSLAF inventory and reconstruction work at Wilberforce Barracks”.
These works, he said, were halted as a result of the Ebola outbreak in the country, but that they however “remain at the heart of Government” and shall recommence on the eradication of the Ebola Virus Disease.
The Vice President used the occasion to extend heartfelt thanks and appreciation to the RSLAF for their contribution in containing the Ebola Virus Disease in the country.
Present at the handing over ceremony were the Chief of Defense Staff, Samuel O Williams, the British High Commissioner Peter West, Minister of State in the Office of the Vice President, Member of Parliament for the Hastings Constituency, Senior Military and Local Government Officials, Headmen of the Hastings Community,