President Dr Julius Maada Bio has successfully moved for a UN resolution on sexual violence survivors, a historic feat that marks the first time in the history of the United Nations General Assembly, UNGA, to have sexual violence survivors on the agenda.
When on 15 April 2021 President Bio agreed to become the lead facilitator of the resolution for survivors of sexual violence at the 76th UNGA in 2021, supported by Questlove (Ahmir Thompson) and Black Thought (Tarik Trotter) of The Roots, Rise seized the opportunity to directly pitch to him for Sierra Leone to become the lead sponsor.
“I cannot be a silent witness to this crime. The silence of men is deafening. Our commitment [to survivors] is absolute,” said the President, when he agreed to partner with Rise, a United States based national nonprofit, founded by Amanda Nguyen, a survivor of sexual violence who penned her own civil rights into existence and unanimously passed the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights, after her own rape.
“On September 15 the General Committee of the United Nations General Assembly unanimously recommended Sierra Leone’s proposed agenda item. On September 17, 193 Member States unanimously approved Sierra Leone’s agenda item. This historical move marks the first time in UNGA history that sexual violence survivors are on the agenda. This is an enormous win for millions of survivors around the world and a big win for Sierra Leone,” said Amanda.
She further added that that structural power for Sierra Leone meant that the small West Africa nation would control the UNGA sexual violence survivor agenda item, and that all other countries must ask Sierra Leone for permission, moving forward if they wanted to introduce a resolution under that agenda item.
It could be recalled that on 18 May 2021, in his State Opening of Parliament address, His Excellency President Dr Julius Maada Bio announced that Sierra Leone would lead an effort at this year’s UNGA for rape survivors.
Since May the Sierra Leone Mission had met over Zoom on a weekly basis with Rise to develop a political and communications strategy to introduce the UN Resolution at the 76th UNGA.
During New York Fashion Week, Rise made headlines by producing NYFW’s Survivor Fashion Show at the Museum of Modern Art. The show showcased Sierra Leone’s leadership on the UNGA Resolution. The New York Times published on their Sunday edition. Harper’s Bazaar published on their front page. People Magazine considered it one of the top moments of New York Fashion Week. The show galvanised support and 6 Ambassadors committed their country’s support at the show.
But is Sierra Leone leading this effort? President Bio said he was moved after meeting with Rise and listening to survivor testimonies, adding that Sierra Leone was a small country with a big heart that recognised rape as an emergency that demanded international attention.
In 2019, the President declared a national state of emergency on sexual violence, making him the first Head of State to do so. In recent years Sierra Leone has also led the world on addressing the issue of sexual violence, from reforming the national law on sexual violence to setting up special courts and one-stop shops for survivors of abuse.
“President Julius Maada Bio has demonstrated exemplary leadership in combatting rape within his country’s borders. The UNGA resolution builds on Sierra Leone’s domestic efforts to showcase this leadership on the global stage,” said the Founder and CEO of Rise.
What is the impact of this resolution, according to Rise? A UN resolution recognises the gravity of the crime of rape. Specifically, a resolution calls out the crime of rape as abhorrent to international peace and security and uplifts its victims as deserving of dignity and justice.
“It catalyses movement building. This resolution signals to the world that survivors of sexual violence deserve to be prioritized. It serves as a clarion call that helps activists on the ground in their work to build awareness and support for other survivors.
“The resolution introduces an accountability mechanism. By introducing a new agenda item and resolution, global leaders at the United Nations can continually improve survivor rights every year. Finally, it is survivor-centered. This standalone resolution has been led and called for, for years, by survivors from all regional groups,” it stated.
Rise is a nonprofit that fights for survivors of sexual violence. Rise’s work for survivors has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and received recognition from: Time 100, Forbes 30 Under 30, TED Talks, and more. Rise has passed 43 bills at the state and federal level in the United States and coordinates a global movement of civil society survivor-leaders from all regional groups.
In 2016, over 1 million people reached out to Rise after President Obama signed Rise’s law – the Sexual Assault Survivor’s Bill of Rights. Survivors, allies and legislators called for a World-Wide Survivor Bill of Rights. That launched Rise’s UN campaign.
Rise has been organising for the past five years for a United Nations General Assembly resolution for global survivors of sexual violence. The UK, France and Argentina originally championed this but because of political turnover at the highest level of government – each country electing a new President the campaign stalled.
Sexual violence is a universal issue that demands international recognition. Around the world, people are demanding recognition and justice for survivors who are denied basic rights and access to information and justice. At Rise, we believe that justice should not depend on geography. Basic protections against sexual assault and access to justice should be available to everyone.