UN envoy tells victims of Hamas sex crimes to break silence

Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Pramila Patten says victims must come forward because silence will be the license for more heinous crimes, on visit in the wake of UN silence after Hamas October 7 atrocities

Itamar Eichner, Hadar Gil-Ad|

Pramila Patten with Isaac and Michal Herzog
(Video: GPO)

The United Nations Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten, arrived in Israel on Monday, leading a delegation of some 10 experts in the fields of medicine and law. She received a mandate from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to collect evidence and information on sexual violence committed by Hamas in the massacre on October 7.
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Patten condemned the sexual violence and called on the victims to testify and file complaints: "I have a message for the survivors, I have a message for the families of the victims and another message for witnesses: please come forward, break the silence because your silence will be the license for these criminals, and they will continue to commit these heinous crimes. There is no place in the battlefields of the 21st century for such crimes."
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נשיא המדינה יצחק הרצוג בפגישה עם השליחה המיוחדת של האו"ם לענייני אלימות מינית
נשיא המדינה יצחק הרצוג בפגישה עם השליחה המיוחדת של האו"ם לענייני אלימות מינית
Pramila Patten with Michal Herzog
(Photo: GPO)
Patten spoke during her meeting with President Isaac Herzog and his wife Michal, as well as with a group of leading women from civil society and academia who focus on combating gender-based violence and advocating for women's rights.
"After what happened on October 7, I couldn't just sit in my New York office and watch from the sidelines," she said . "Therefore, I have actively engaged through the Government of Israel in this mission, and I am very pleased to be here to express my solidarity with Israel, with the survivors, the families of the victims, and the families of the abducted."
Her visit comes after significant criticism of the international women's organizations and their apparent silence in the wake of the atrocities. "I had two meetings with the families of the abducted in New York, and I am here to show my solidarity with Israel," she said. "But I have one important message: sexual violence is one of the most heinous crimes with devastating consequences for generations. Sexual violence used as a tactic of terror, as a tactic of war, is designed to destabilize, instill fear, and dehumanize not only the victims but also their families, societies, nations, or enemies."
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פרמילה פאטן עם איילה מאיר
פרמילה פאטן עם איילה מאיר
(Photo: GPO)
She said that the silence of the survivors, "which, out of shame and stigma, prevents reporting, is what makes sexual violence so pervasive and effective. Pervasive because perpetrators believe victims will not report, and they will go free without facing severe punishment, and effective because they indeed ruin the lives and livelihoods of the victims, their families, and their communities." According to her, "the mandate given to me in 2009 through Security Council Resolution 1888 promised that sexual violence is unacceptable under any circumstances. International human rights law and international humanitarian law cannot be empty promises. So, call everyone to come forward."
Patten emphasized the purpose of her visit to Israel, stating, "My team and I are here to listen to you in confidentiality. I am here for a week, ready to meet you in a safe environment that allows listening to your stories. The world needs to know what happened on October 7th. Sexual violence, serving as a tactic of war, suffers from chronic underreporting. But my message is to break the silence. The stigma should not be on the victim – the stigma and shame should be on the perpetrators. Victims should join us and shift the stigma and shame onto the perpetrators."
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