Thank you, Assistant Secretary Destro, and good morning everyone. On behalf of President Trump and Secretary Pompeo, it is a pleasure to welcome you to the Human Rights Working Group. This is the second working group meeting under the Warsaw Process, with the Cybersecurity Working Group having just convened earlier this week in Seoul. We look forward to future meetings in Manama, Warsaw, Bucharest, and Brasilia on issues related to maritime and aviation security, energy security, missile proliferation, and humanitarian issues.
This endeavor has become a global partnership – as it should be – because the challenges to peace and security in the Middle East transcend the region’s borders. Thank you to each of your governments for investing the effort and resources to co-host working groups and for sending representatives to participate in these discussions.
I want to recognize my colleague Under Secretary Przydacz from Poland, who will speak shortly. The Government of Poland has been instrumental in establishing this initiative and moving it forward. We are grateful for our partnership on a broad range of issues, including those affecting the Middle East.
America is especially proud to host the Working Group on Human Rights here in Washington. As President Trump said in Warsaw, “We value the dignity of every human life, protect the rights of every person, and share the hope of every soul to live in freedom. That is who we are. Those are the priceless ties that bind us together as nations, as allies, and as a civilization.” Secretary Pompeo reaffirmed our commitment to these values in a speech last month. He stressed that our “respect for unalienable rights hasn’t just shaped us as a nation; it’s shaped how we think about America’s place in the world as well, and it sets our foreign policy.”
“Women, Peace, and Security” is the theme of this meeting because of our conviction – validated by empirical data – that societies that enable their women to participate fully in civic and economic life are more prosperous and peaceful. Simply put, women deserve the principal seats at the table where decisions are being made about their lives and futures.
Women and girls have been particularly affected by the conflict and instability in the Middle East. We have seen the targeting of women journalists and politicians in Iraq, the assassination of female human rights defenders in Libya, and the kidnapping and brutal torture of countless minority women and girls by ISIS in Iraq and Syria, not to mention the horrific sexual violence committed by the Assad regime. In Yemen, we have witnessed a 60 percent increase in gender-based violence since the conflict intensified in 2015.
Conflicts in these four countries alone are estimated to have affected more than 47 million people and resulted in the forced displacement of more than 17 million. More than two thirds of these victims are women and children.
We must not simply view women as victims. They must be considered a part of the solution. Women have emerged as pragmatic leaders across the region, despite overwhelming barriers. They have assumed grave personal risk to negotiate prisoner exchanges in Syria. They have facilitated the delivery of humanitarian aid in Yemen. They protest gender-based violence in Libya. You will hear from some of these remarkable women later this morning. We must collectively engage and harness the talents of female leaders – in government, civil society, and religious communities – and incorporate their perspectives into discussions on peace and stability.
America is committed to leading by example to advance women’s inclusion in security efforts. President Trump signed the Women, Peace, and Security Act into law in 2017. Tomorrow, you will hear from Senior Advisor Ivanka Trump about why Women, Peace, and Security is a priority for the President.
With the release of our strategy on women, peace, and security this past June, the State Department, the Department of Defense, U.S. Agency for International Development, and others are engaging regional partners and civil society to accomplish our objectives. In Jordan, female police officers have joined our police training partnership. Secretary Pompeo named Police Colonel Khalida al-Twal, Chief of the Jordanian Public Security Directorate Women’s Police Department, as one of our annual International Women of Courage awardees. Her efforts to improve protection for women at risk of violence and to prepare female police officers for UN peacekeeping missions demonstrated remarkable leadership that made a difference in her community and beyond.
There is an American project in Iraq that seeks to overcome barriers to refugee returns and relieve intra- and intercommunal tensions by training women in leadership and social cohesion as a means to resolve conflict. To address the effects of sexual violence in conflict, our programs in Iraq and Syria provide support for survivors of torture and sexual and gender-based violence, particularly survivors of ISIS — a critical step toward mending communities and healing those afflicted.
We know that many of your governments seek to address similar themes through policies and National Action Plans. We encourage those countries who have not yet developed National Action Plans to use this working group to initiate the process. And we call on those with National Action Plans to allocate the necessary budgetary and human resources. Working together, we can increase women’s participation – and amplify their voices – in key institutions related to peacekeeping, conflict resolution, and post-conflict recovery and reconciliation.
All of you will have the opportunity to elaborate on your efforts to further the women, peace, and security agenda today and tomorrow, with the goal of preparing for a ministerial in Washington next year. The more we can all do to promote women as full and equal participants in building a more peaceful and secure future for the region, the more durable that future will be. Thank you.