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Lankford, Rosen Condemn United Nations’ Inaction on Hamas’s Sexual Violence Against Women

WASHINGTON, DC – Senators James Lankford (R-OK), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Ben Cardin (D-MD), along with their colleagues, sent a letter condemning the inaction of the United Nations (UN) regarding Hamas’s widespread sexual violence, including mass rape and mutilation, against women in Israel on October 7, 2023. The Senators urged UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to open an independent investigation into Hamas’s acts of sexual violence and to hold the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women)—an organization that works to end gender-based violence—accountable for its failure to immediately and unequivocally condemn Hamas’s atrocities against women.

The Senators were also joined by Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ), Katie Britt (R-AL), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Jim Risch (R-ID), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Deb Fischer (R-NE), Bob Casey (D-PA), Mike Crapo (R-ID), John Fetterman (D-PA), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Rick Scott (R-FL), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Tim Scott (R-SC), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Bill Hagerty (R-TN), Roger Wicker (R-MS), and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN).

“We write to express our profound disappointment with the United Nations’ (UN) response to Hamas’s widespread sexual violence, including rape and mutilation, as a weapon of war against women in Israel on October 7, 2023,” wrote the Senators. “A growing body of evidence including the testimonies of survivors, witnesses, and first responders makes clear that as part of Hamas’s terrorist attack that killed 1,200 men, women, and children on October 7, the terrorist organization intentionally used rape and sexual assault as weapons of war.”

“Sexual violence, particularly on this scale and of this level of brutality, must be condemned unequivocally and without qualification, which is why we were shocked that it took UN Women nearly two months to speak out against these atrocities,” the Senators also wrote. “… we urge you to move swiftly to seek the establishment of an independent fact-finding effort through a separate mechanism, tasked with collecting testimonies from survivors and witnesses of Hamas’s sexual violence. An independent investigation is a necessary step to hold perpetrators accountable, support survivors, and provide justice for victims.”

Following the brutal attacks on Israel by Hamas, Lankford immediately issued a statement of our ongoing and unwavering support for Israel and the Israelis’ right to defend themselves. As co-founder and co-chair of the Senate Abraham Accords Caucus, Lankford and his fellow co-chairs also issued a powerful joint statement of support for Israel. Last month, Lankford also sent a letter with his colleagues to urge the UN to designate Iranian-backed Hamas as a terrorist organization

The full text of the letter can be found here.

Dear Secretary Guterres:

We write to express our profound disappointment with the United Nations’ (UN) response to Hamas’s widespread sexual violence, including rape and mutilation, as a weapon of war against women in Israel on October 7, 2023. As the international community observes the annual 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence intended to “call for the prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls”, we urge you to immediately launch an independent investigation into sexual violence committed by Hamas. We additionally urge you to hold UN Women, which is a leading UN organization dedicated to ending gender-based violence, accountable for its failure to immediately and unequivocally condemn Hamas’s brutal use of sexual violence. 

A growing body of evidence including the testimonies of survivors, witnesses, and first responders makes clear that as part of Hamas’s terrorist attack that killed 1,200 men, women, and children on October 7, the terrorist organization intentionally used rape and sexual assault as weapons of war. Israeli police have gathered more than 1,500 testimonies from witnesses and medics, as well as forensic evidence demonstrating that rape and sexual assaults took place. Testimonies include one witness who described an account of a gang rape that took place at the Nova music festival site and footage showing mutilated bodies exhibiting signs of women being raped before they were executed.

As multiple UN Security Council Resolutions affirm, the use of sexual violence is a war crime under international law. Hamas’s premeditated campaign of systematic sexual violence on October 7 clearly meets this standard. Sexual violence, particularly on this scale and of this level of brutality, must be condemned unequivocally and without qualification, which is why we were shocked that it took UN Women nearly two months to speak out against these atrocities. This came a week after the organization issued an initial statement condemning Hamas, only to delete the post and replace it with a halfhearted statement that dropped any mention of Hamas. Moreover, the organization has taken no meaningful steps to provide support to the Israeli survivors of sexual violence. UN Women’s failure to publicly stand with Israeli women undermines its legitimacy and contributes to the outrageous effort by some to dismiss, downplay, or outright deny these atrocities.

While we note your November 30 statement calling for prosecution of Hamas for its abhorrent acts of sexual violence, we have serious concerns that the UN body tasked with investigating these crimes is the permanent Commission of Inquiry (COI) on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The COI includes an appointed Commissioner who has used antisemitic tropes and questioned the right of the State of Israel to be a member of the UN. Given that the COI has a history of bias and unfairly singling out Israel, we urge you to move swiftly to seek the establishment of an independent fact-finding effort through a separate mechanism, tasked with collecting testimonies from survivors and witnesses of Hamas’s sexual violence. An independent investigation is a necessary step to hold perpetrators accountable, support survivors, and provide justice for victims.

The UN’s delay in denouncing Hamas’s sexual violence and rape on October 7 is a moral failure. Tasking the one-sided COI to investigate these atrocities undermines the effort’s credibility, creates the strong potential for biased outcomes, and provides no measure of justice for the victims and survivors. In addition to holding UN Women’s leadership accountable for their weeks-long failure to condemn sexual violence committed by Hamas, we call on you to immediately launch a full and independent investigation into Hamas’ brutal campaign of sexual violence committed against Israeli women. We thank you for your attention to this matter and look forward to your response.

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