The Minister for Defence stresses the "absolute importance" of joint condemnation of sexual assault in conflicts

News - 2022.6.30

The Minister for Defence, Margarita Robles, attended a joint press conference with the German Foreign Minister, Annalena Baerbock, and the NATO Secretary General's Special Representative for Women, Peace and Security, the Italian Irene Fellin, in which the atrocities committed by Russian troops against women in the war in Ukraine were denounced.

Robles stressed the "absolute importance" of all allied countries maintaining a spirit of "zero tolerance of any kind of aggression, but even more so against the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war".

The minister welcomed the inclusion of an event such as this in the programme of the Madrid Summit, "an appropriate framework" for denouncing both the violence and sexual aggression suffered by women and girls, both in conflicts such as the one we are currently experiencing in Ukraine, and the situation of women in Afghanistan "which worries us enormously".

"Women and girls, when there is conflict, are doubly victimized. Not only because of violence but also because of sexual assaults," said Robles.

"The scenes we are currently witnessing in Ukraine, with women and girls being absolutely raped and abused, is something that neither NATO nor the international community can remain indifferent to, and Spain will always be denouncing these situations of violence and aggression," she said.

Robles and her German counterpart have pledged to work to ensure that Russian President Vladimir Putin is punished for these "war crimes", that he is brought before international criminal tribunals and that "these sexual assaults are given the punishment they deserve". Germany has sent women prosecutors to Ukraine to assist in collecting evidence and interviewing victims to help bring their cases before the International Criminal Court and other tribunals.

On Afghanistan, Minister Robles said that "we have an obligation as NATO, and even more so after having been there for more than 20 years. All our solidarity and full support to the Afghan women".

For her part, NATO Special Representative for Women, Peace and Security Irene Fellin stressed that this is a historic and transformative summit also in terms of the security and peace agenda for women, because "it is no longer about what we do but about who we are, and the core values we stand for: freedom, human rights and democracy".

"We must work together to improve gender equality in our work at NATO, and continue to lead for a safer and more equal tomorrow," where women and girls are not disproportionately affected in conflict. "Our way of responding to a crisis has to be a gendered way".

German Foreign Minister Baerbock said, "We have been working to strengthen the peace and security agenda for women and it is a prominent theme, as it should be in the 21st century, and it is in the new Strategic Concept, because it appears in the first five chapters."

She called for the meaningful participation of women at all levels and in all phases of conflict management and prevention, "because security goes beyond mere diplomacy and the military".

"The gender perspective has to become our DNA as an Alliance," she concluded.

A tool for peace

During the first meeting of women ministers from allied countries, held on Wednesday as part of the summit, Robles recalled that since women joined the Spanish armed forces more than 30 years ago, "they have brought, from the outset, a different and valuable way of approaching many of the traditional military tasks, including operations abroad".

A female presence in uniform that has been groundbreaking in places where the world has not advanced, and who, thanks to "their professionalism and human skills, their enthusiasm and empathy, demonstrated their true potential for conflict resolution".

This is why Spain, says Robles, actively supports NATO's commitment to the implementation of gender equality policies in its operations and is committed to increasing the number of women in the Armed Forces.

"It is important that we continue to emphasise the centrality of this peace and security agenda, and the message of hope that our military women bring to those countries where they operate in disadvantaged regions," because "they serve as an inspiration to local women as they convince their political leaders to consider the potential they have been ignoring," she said.

Finally, the Minister for Defence said yesterday that "the empowerment of the 50% of the population eager for peace must be the main effort for the next generation of women leaders. I truly believe that this is one of the most valuable peace tools we can use.

Non official translation