65th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women
Side event titled “Violence against Girl Children in Armed Conflict and the
role of the International Criminal Justice System”
Statement by H.E. Mohan Peiris,
Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations
Wednesday, 17 March 2021 (Virtual Meeting), 11:45 am
It is often we talk on the media, in schools or on business forums about empowering and protecting the rights of women in the workplace, or in public life. We need to give the same focus to the violence girl children face, particularly in armed conflict, as such this discussion is most welcome and maybe much overdue. I therefore wish to thank the Permanent Missions of Italy, Niger, Belgium, El Salvador, Norway, the EU and the office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict.
It is a fact that 415 million children live in conflict affected areas, and of that 149 million children live in high intensity conflict zones. Girl children are disproportionately at risk of violence. They not only face physical threats but threats to their personal integrity. Out of fear, girl children are forced - even by their own families - to not resist rape, sexual enslavement, forced marriages and other gender based violence.
Sadly, violence against girl children in armed conflict is not an alien phenomenon to Sri Lanka. For over 30 years we witnessed the terror and intimidation felt by a community, especially young girls, at the hands of non-state actors. This group used intimidation and terror tactics of a sophisticated nature to attack and force young girls to participate in their agenda - removing all sense of girlhood and freedom of choice from our young girls. The psychological scarring girl children face in armed conflict is an additional violence we as a nation saw. Let me paint you a picture of the disproportionate violence young girls faced under the control of this group of non-state actors.
Girl cadres were forced to cut their hair to mimic men, and dress in clothes similar to men. Young girls were forced to relinquish the very essence of their femininity, gender identity and conform to the ‘stronger’ gender. In addition, there was a disproportionate recruitment and use of young girls as suicide bombers. This was a violent reality and horror faced by girls and women that the Sri Lankan security forces rescued, and are now being accused otherwise by remnant groups of this non-state actors. The end of the conflict brought about opportunity for these young girls to reclaim their identity and their freedom.
Within this contextual backdrop I would question what has been the role of the international criminal justice system where perpetrators of such violence against girl children are allowed to roam free. I put this question in the context of what his Excellency the ICC Judge said. It was balm to my ears what he said. But it will remain balm to my ears if we don’t see action on the ground. It will be rhetoric. I simply say those who trained girl cadres and enforced the practice of providing them with cyanide pills, forced them to undergo the monstrosities associated with the workings of this group of non-state actors are living a very comfortable life in a country that holds no qualms when talking about human rights. It is ironic that such persons are allowed to live their lives freely in this part of the world, while those that liberated these children from such destitute are being penalized. Where I ask is the justice? Is this a justice system only for certain groups of people? Those who tend to provide political mileage for the guardians of these rights? My plea today, to the international justice system is that we must take the fight against these non-state actors who are committing these atrocities, far beyond lip service. The rhetoric alone is not enough. The structures are not enough. I wish the system all success and I hope and pray that we will address this issue for all time and get rid of this menace from our system.
Violence against girl children in armed conflict takes place away from the limelight. Radicalization efforts, intimidation via blackmailing, fundraising efforts are conducted away from the limelight - but it is these mechanisms done in the dark that set the foundation for the violence girl children face in armed conflict. My dear friends, if we want to stop the violence, we need to open our eyes to the real atrocities and work together to stop them. Look at the real issues and find meaningful solutions without resorting to tactics for petty political gain.