Opening Address by Minister for Foreign Affairs, at the Third Annual Criminal Law Conference - Reforming Laws on Sexual Violence: International Perspectives, Centre for Criminal Justice and Human Rights, UCC, Friday, 27 June 2008
I am pleased to be here today to deliver the opening address at the Third Annual Criminal Law Conference organised by the Centre for Criminal Justice and Human Rights at UCC on the theme “Reforming Laws on Sexual Violence: International Perspectives”
I am always delighted to have the opportunity to welcome visitors to Ireland’s most beautiful city and extend a special “Céad Míle Fáilte go Corcaigh” to today’s international visitors.
The horror of sexual violence is an abuse of human rights that transcends nationality, ethnicity and socio-economic status. It happens here in Ireland, in all countries and in all regions of the world. Given the importance, extent and sensitivity of the issues involved, it is little wonder that recent international debates on proposals to reform the law on sexual violence have been so keen and contested.
The law is a powerful tool. Making international law more effective in responding to sexual violence is of crucial importance if we are to bring an end to these appalling practices. Significant progress has been made but we need to do more.
The necessity of reforming the international legal system, so as to
bring the mechanisms of international law to bear on crimes of
sexual violence, is now more widely recognised than ever
before. The belief that there ought to be serious
consequences for perpetrators is likewise much more widespread than
Accountability by State and non-State actors should be ensured, including through effective prosecution and punishment. Security sector reform and capacity building for police and the judicial sector are also called for in this connection.
The inclusion of sexual violence offences in the statutes of the ad hoc international criminal tribunals, and the considered jurisprudence of those tribunals, has over a short space of time progressively developed the law in this area in many important respects.
Rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilisation and other forms of sexual violence are now included within the definitions of war crimes and crimes against humanity, found within the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court– an institution which Ireland strongly supports.
There is also an increasing recognition that, for example, sexual and other forms of gender-based violence in conflict situations have direct and significant relevance to the maintenance of international peace and security.
Ireland also believes that there should be wider application of best practices for effective prevention and prosecution of sexual crimes committed in situations of armed conflict.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As Minister for Foreign Affairs, I am delighted that my Department has provided financial support to the Centre for Criminal Justice and Human Rights towards the organisation of today’s conference, which is also the first event of Ireland’s Chairmanship of the Human Security Network.
The Human Security Network is an informal group of like-minded countries from all regions of the world which maintains dialogue on human security.
Ireland recently took over the Chair of the Network for the period 2008-2009 and has chosen to make gender-based violence a focus of the Chairmanship. The Human Security Network has identified gender-based violence as a human security issue and works to highlight the increasing pervasiveness of gender-based violence in conflict situations, as well as the dramatic increase in domestic violence in conflict and post-conflict zones.
I hope that the Human Security Network’s work on this important issue, under our Chairmanship, can help ensure that the eyes of the international community remain clearly focused on bringing to an end to this appalling phenomenon.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I note that one of the panel discussions at today’s conference will
deal with UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and
Eight years on from the adoption of Resolution 1325, it is time to assess progress towards achieving its major goals. Since its adoption in 2000, the Resolution has helped to promote the equal participation and full involvement of women in efforts to advance peace and security. It has also sought to protect women and girls from gender-based violence and indeed to prevent its occurrence.
However it remains a challenge to ensure that the United Nations, both institutionally and through its individual member States, fully implements the Resolution.
The UN Security Council, in a statement last October, regretted that gender-based violence, particularly rape and other forms of sexual abuse remains pervasive and in some situations, has become systematic.
Such horrors cannot be allowed to continue and an urgent and effective response from the international community is crucial to ending these terrible practices.
The Irish Government, for our part, is actively engaged in promoting the role of women in conflict resolution and post-conflict recovery.
The White Paper on Irish Aid sets out Ireland’s commitment to the implementation of Resolution 1325 and recognises its significance to international efforts to address sexual violence in conflict.
In particular, we recognise that the resolution came about as a result of lobbying by women around the world. They wanted their opinions and experiences of conflict to matter. We can make their voices matter by ensuring that we implement the provisions of Resolution 1325, and in particular take the necessary steps to protect women and girls from sexual violence.
The establishment of my Department’s Conflict Resolution Unit has opened further avenues for Ireland to support implementation of Resolution 1325 in conflict and post-conflict settings.
The Resolution is one of the cross-cutting themes which help to guide the work of the new Unit. This underlines the strength of our commitment to gender issues in all our activities.
The Conflict Resolution Unit has begun to identify opportunities for supporting implementation of Resolution 1325 in the field, including in Timor-Leste.
We hope that this will allow for tangible lessons to be drawn and shared internationally to help advance and implement the 1325 agenda.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Ireland continues to scale up our efforts to address sexual violence not just as a human rights violation, but also as a matter of international peace and security.
In line with the White Paper commitment to promote gender equality and to address gender-based violence, the Irish Aid development cooperation programme supports a wide range of projects which aim to prevent and respond to sexual violence in conflict.
Some of the programmes that we are supporting provide examples of practical work which leads to real results.
In Darfur, Sudan and West Africa, we have partnered with the International Rescue Committee to deliver gender-based violence prevention and response programmes, including the provision of legal support to survivors.
In Uganda, Irish Aid has been engaged in mainstreaming gender equality in the reform of the criminal justice sector, particularly highlighting the issue of domestic violence legislation.
And in Ethiopia, Irish Aid has a partnership with the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association, a key organisation in promoting the legal rights of women, and one that has played an instrumental role in the introduction of a revised Family Law in 2007.
An additional demonstration of our commitment to promoting the protection of women and girls in conflict and post-conflict situations has been the establishment of the Joint Consortium on Gender Based Violence.
In 2004, in response to reports of high levels of rape and sexual
violence being perpetrated in the conflict in Darfur, Irish human
rights, development and humanitarian organisations, along with the
Irish Defence Forces and Irish Aid, established a Consortium as a
way to work together and to advance their collective capacity to
address gender-based violence. This unique body has made
steady progress in bringing greater attention to the issues and in
leading the way as an innovative model to enhance international
efforts to address gender-based violence.
I am pleased to note that a representative of the Defence Forces is participating in the panel discussion today on Security Council Resolution 1325. The Defence Forces play a significant role internationally in conflict resolution through their peacekeeping activities, while their UN Training School provides training to peacekeeping contingents worldwide on issues such as protection from gender-based violence and gender equality concerns in times of conflict and post-conflict.
It is scandalous that some UN peacekeeping forces from other countries have been involved in sexual exploitation and sexual violence and imperative that the UN’s efforts to stamp out such abuses be fully followed through.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
No society is immune from the scourge of gender-based violence, including sexual violence.
We are all aware of the devastating impact that sexual violence can
have on individuals and families.
While I speak to you today as Minister for Foreign Affairs, I served previously as Minister for Health and in that capacity, I became very aware of the full impact of sexual violence on victims and their families.
The Government is committed to addressing the serious crimes of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence here in Ireland.
Following a policy review in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the Government decided in March 2007 to establish a dedicated cross-government executive office to provide leadership towards a cohesive and co-ordinated response. As a result, Cosc - The National Office for the Prevention of Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence - was established in June 2007 as an executive office of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
For those of you here today who are not familiar with the Irish
language, Cosc is an Irish word meaning to ‘Stop’ or
The Cosc Office is mandated to ensure the delivery of a ‘whole of government’ approach to the prevention of these crimes, the protection of victims, and the provision of services to those affected.
Cosc's major current priority is to produce a National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence, which has the support of State and non-governmental organisations in the sector. This Strategy will set out the policy on addressing domestic and sexual violence, as well as the preventative and responsive actions to be taken by the broad range of organisations to ensure a well co-ordinated system.
Cosc has issued a call for submissions in relation to this strategy. In the second half of 2008, Cosc plans to hold a series of nationwide consultations with stakeholders to present and discuss key themes identified in the submissions received.
There is also work to be done in addressing the public’s awareness
of and attitudes to sexual violence.
In this regard the Irish Government has for many years provided funding to local and national support services for raising awareness of the effect of sexual violence on victims and society.
This awareness raising will continue through Cosc, with funding being made available under the National Development Plan 2007-2013.
The Government has also committed itself to introducing a Sexual Offences Bill which will consolidate and modernise all criminal law in the area of sexual offences in a manner which is clear, unambiguous and uncompromising in its objectives of protecting victims - particularly children - from sexual crime, and punishing the perpetrators of such crime.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to conclude by thanking the Centre for Criminal
Justice and Human Rights for organising today’s
I would like in particular to thank UCC President Dr Michael Murphy for the warm welcome extended to me today, and to thank Professor Caroline Fennell and also Dr Siobhán Mullally, Co-Director of the Centre, for her role in organising today’s Conference and for facilitating the collaboration with the Department of Foreign Affairs.
I believe that today’s conference will make an important contribution to highlighting recent developments in international law, as well as informing legal and policy debates on Ireland’s role in combating gender-based violence. I note the presence of many eminent Irish and international figures as Chairs and Panellists for this Conference. I wish you all a very productive day and look forward to hearing about the outcome of your work.
Go raibh mile maith agaibh.