Speech by Minister Bruins Slot at the International Conference of Prosecutors on Accountability for Conflict-Related Sexual Violence

Speech by Minister of Foreign Affairs Hanke Bruins Slot at the International Conference of Prosecutors on Accountability for Conflict-Related Sexual Violence, 26 March 2024 at the Peace Palace in The Hague.

Enlarge image Minister of Foreign Affairs Hanke Bruins Slot speeches at the International Conference of Prosecutors on Accountability for Conflict-Related Sexual Violence
Image: ©Fred Libochant / Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken

Special Representative Patten,
Your Excellencies,
Esteemed guests,

Today, when we talk about conflict-related sexual violence, we’re talking about the victims.

Women, men and children.

Take the 25-year-old Shukuru.

She lost her relatives during rebel fighting in her hometown of Rubaya, a mining city in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

She fled the city, in search of safety.

Alone, sleeping in a tent.

And her assailants knew she was alone.

Now Shukuru is pregnant.

‘Every day I live a battle to survive,’ she told reporters from the newspaper El Pais last month.

Shukuru is just one of the many victims of sexual violence.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, Israel, Ukraine, Haiti, Nigeria, Sudan, Syria and so many other places.

Last February, I visited Iraq.

It was heartbreaking to hear about the hardships Yezidi women still face, due to the sexual violence and slavery they suffered.

These Yezidi women are still marginalised.

Unable to play a full role in society.

Often sexual violence is a planned part of warfare, committed on a massive scale by rebels or government troops.

It’s hard to imagine a weapon of war that’s more horrific and humiliating than sexual violence.

And it is an ongoing problem.

The recent mission report by the Office of special representative Patten on its visit to Israel and the West Bank is further testimony to the urgency of this conference.

Because of the findings about sexual violence carried out by Hamas on the 7th of October.

The Netherlands supports further investigation that is needed to hold perpetrators accountable and achieve justice for the victims.

We must tackle the impunity that still prevails when it comes to sexual violence around the world.

Sexual violence is a grave violation of international humanitarian law.

Obviously, such violence is not an inevitable consequence of war.

On the contrary: it is a deliberate tactic, and it must be condemned.

And that’s why we’re all here today in The Hague.

It is a unique moment.

It’s the first time that so many prosecutors from all over the world have met up.

We’re all here for the same reason.

We all share the will to find justice for the victims.

The will to break the pattern of silence.

The will to connect with each other, and to share insights.

And that’s extremely valuable.

Yes, we have come a long way.

Historically, accountability for sexual violence in conflicts has been the exception rather than the rule.

Even during the Nuremberg Trials, after the Second World War, sexual violence was not considered a ground for prosecution.

Fortunately, important progress has been made since then.

But the reality remains difficult.

As you all know, evidence-gathering is a big challenge for states working alone.

You face legal obstacles.

So we have to find ways to overcome them.

Cooperation across national borders needs to be made easier.

It needs to be the norm.

Partnerships with other countries, and with organisations like the International Criminal Court, is essential.

We know this can achieve results.

An example is the Joint Investigation Team that is seeking justice for the Yezidi victims of war in Syria and Iraq.

Within this team the Netherlands is working together with Belgium, France and Sweden.

As a result of this joint effort, in November 2022 the Dutch police arrested a suspect in the Netherlands: a Dutch female returnee involved in crimes against a Yezidi woman in Syria.

Another example of successful cooperation is the joint team  investigating crimes against migrants and refugees in Libya.

Here, we are working together with Italy, the United Kingdom, Spain and the ICC to bring perpetrators of violence – including sexual violence – to justice.

The Netherlands will continue putting accountability on the agenda, both at home and abroad.

With a special focus on conflict-related sexual violence, in keeping with our feminist foreign policy.

Esteemed guests, prosecutors,

Your work requires perseverance, it requires empathy, it requires patience.

You are working with people who are often extremely traumatised.

The victims of sexual violence deserve care and justice.

They deserve to be heard.

Some, like Shukuru from Congo, speak out.

Some – many, in fact – never will.

And your work is also for them.

To give them hope of justice.

I wish you great strength and satisfaction in your challenging work.

Thank you for being her today, thanks for your fight against injustice and for the victims of sexual violence.