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End ‘digital divide’ to support victims of sexual violence: Guterres

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End ‘digital divide’ to support victims of sexual violence: Guterres

In his message marking the day, the Secretary-General condemned the use of sexual violence as a tactic of ‘war, torture, and repression’ in the conflicts that affect hundreds of millions of people around the world.

“Harrowing reports from across the globe are a terrible reminder that this despicable crime persists despite international commitments to stamp it out. And many of those responsible never face justice. While stigma too often causes survivors to walk in shame, perpetrators walk free”, said Mr. Guterres. 

Mr. Guterres also emphasised that the United Nations stands “in solidarity with survivors” and everyone supporting them and is committed to “redoubling efforts” to prevent atrocities and hold those responsible to account.

Listen to survivors 

António Guterres also called on governments to adhere to international humanitarian law, building it into military codes of conduct and training – and most importantly, commit to listening to survivors.

“And it means holding perpetrators to account, so that they face justice – we must confront the belief that fighters can inflict horror with impunity,” said Mr. Guterres.

Technology and preventing harm

This year’s International Day focuses on technology and the digital divide.

“Accessible technology can alert people to danger, help them to reach sanctuary and support, and enable abuses to be documented and verified, as a first step towards accountability”, said Mr. Guterres.

“But it can also perpetuate violence, harm survivors, and inflame hate. We must ensure technology supports our efforts to prevent and end these crimes, including by increasing access and holding people to account for their actions online.”

Gender norms and sexual violence 

European Union (EU) High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, and the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten, also issued a statement, focusing on the impact conflict-related sexual violence on gender norms. 

They said they had joined forces to call for “more decisive action to prevent and eliminate sexual violence, and to advance gender equality as a political priority. We are alarmed by the growing use of sexual violence as a cruel tactic of war, torture, terror and political repression, and threat to collective security.”

Double edged sword 

The risk of becoming a target of sexual violence today is heightened by the fact that these crimes can also be facilitated and promoted online, utilizing digital channels. 

“At the same time, digital platforms can play an important role and be a powerful tool to improve gender equality and empower women and girls, contributing to building their resilience in times of crisis.

“They can also aid in the prevention of sexual and gender-based violence, and the needed response, through early warning and linking survivors with referral pathways for services, and facilitating reporting,” they said. 

The means to prevent sexual violence online are either “insufficient or non-existent”, which weakens the ability to respond and equality, they added.

“Therefore, we call for safe digital platforms compliant with international law, so that survivors of conflict-related sexual violence and those supporting them may use these platforms to fight impunity and demand improved accountability. It is critical to foster a protective environment, both online and offline, that deters and prevents sexual violence as well as enabling safe reporting and adequate response,” they said. 

International call

The international community must be as one “to confront the ever-increasing threat posed by digital technology and bridge the gender digital divide to allow survivors to access more resources and fight impunity”.

“By addressing the gender digital divide, we can create a world where women and children can live free from fear and violence,” Ms. Patten and Mr. Borrell said. 

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