Excellencies, Distinguished Panellists, Ladies and Gentlemen
I would like to welcome you all to the Panel Discussion on Enhancing Accountability for Sexual Violence in Conflict.
Estonia is dedicated to protecting and promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms both in Estonia and in international forums. Furthermore, we are of the opinion that fighting sexual violence in conflict should become a high priority for the international community as a whole, as both sexual violence and the threat of sexual violence continue to be employed as a weapon of war.
Estonia was honored to join the declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict initiated primarily by my distinguished colleague H.E. Mr. William Hague. Estonia agrees entirely with the principles set forth in the declaration and we were glad to see the role of the International Criminal Court and other ad hoc tribunals emphasized.
As a member of the Human Rights Council, one of our priorities has been to focus particularly on the rights of women and children, gender perspective in conflict settlement, and the fight against impunity. Estonia is committed to working proactively towards the fulfillment of this mandate and is actively engaged in the Council deliberations on accountability for serious violations of human rights and other atrocities. This includes, of course, the crimes of rape and sexual violence.
Innocent civilians often constitute the majority of victims in armed conflict and women and children are particularly vulnerable. The Rome Statute, the founding treaty of the ICC, built upon the recognition of sexual violence as a serious international crime by the ad hoc tribunals, expands the scope of sexual violence-based crimes in international law. The Statute acknowledges that these crimes can be committed against both men and women. It is important that this gender sensitivity is translated into national prosecutions; to ensure that national proceedings take into account the gender dimension of atrocity crimes to the same extent as the Rome Statute. Estonia has ratified the Rome Statute and incorporated it into its legislation, thus acknowledging sexual and gender based crimes to the same extent.
A more robust system of accountability for perpetrators of sexual violence and rape will discourage the continued use of these crimes as a weapon of war. In the prevention of atrocity crimes, including sexual violence in armed conflicts, Estonia acknowledges that it is the primary duty of every state to exercise criminal jurisdiction over those responsible for these crimes. Each State can undertake initiatives to ensure that their national laws fully incorporate the Rome Statute crimes and thus achieve the ability to prosecute these heinous crimes. Only universal ratification of the Rome Statute can ensure accountability for atrocity crimes including sexual violence in armed conflicts, wherever they are being committed. Unfortunately, national investigations and prosecutions of atrocity crimes remain rare. So while the ICC is a court of last resort, it is an essential institution for those situations where national jurisdictions are unable or unwilling to act.
For us, supporting the work and aims of the ICC and preventing atrocity crimes are a priority. Estonia firmly believes that the ICC is, however, not only about punishing perpetrators but also about empowering victims of atrocity crimes. Allow me to note, that Estonia confirms its commitment to ending impunity and fighting sexual violence also through its financial contributions in this field. In 2013 Estonia has contributed already financially to a UNICEF project in Central African Republic for prevention and response to gender-based violence and to UNHCR for victims of displacement as well as the activities of the Office of the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict.
In replenishing the Trust Fund for Victims established under the Rome Statute, Estonia has paid special attention to the needs of victims of sexual violence who are very often stigmatized by their own communities. The Fund has supported important work in countries where the court is conducting investigations to alleviate the suffering of victims. Among other activities, it is providing assistance to the victims of rape and to children born as a result of rapes.
The Trust Fund for Victims is currently dependent upon voluntary donations in order to effectively fulfill its mandate and Estonia welcomes voluntary donations to the Fund. Estonia has shown its support to this issue by contributing financially to the Trust Fund and continues to show its support also this year by contributing the amount of 50 000 EUR to the Team of Experts on Rule of Law and Sexual Violence in Conflict.
In this regard, while we work towards increasing accountability and preventing the continued use of rape and sexual violence in conflicts, we can in some small measure help to alleviate the pain of those who have suffered from these heinous crimes.
Thank you for your attention!