Maj. Gen. Patrick Cammaert, a former U.N. peacekeeping commander, told the meeting: “It has probably become more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in an armed conflict.”
Speakers identified former Yugoslavia, Sudan’s Darfur region, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Liberia as conflict regions where deliberate sexual violence had occurred on a mass scale.
U.N. officials have said the problem is currently worst in eastern Congo. But a recent survey of 2,000 women and girls in Liberia showed 75 percent had been raped during the West African country’s civil war.
A U.S.-sponsored resolution adopted unanimously by the council called sexual violence “a tactic of war to humiliate, dominate, instil fear in, disperse and/or forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic group.”
It said the violence “can significantly exacerbate situations of armed conflict and may impede the restoration of international peace and security.”
It called on parties to conflict to take immediate measures to protect civilians from sexual violence, said such crimes should be excluded from amnesty after conflicts, and warned that the council would consider special measures against parties that commit them when imposing or renewing sanctions.
It’s also heartening to note that U.S. Secretary of State Condelezza Rice was the champion of the resolution.
The United States, council president for June, chose sexual violence as the theme of the month’s debate on a general issue. As well as Rice, several government ministers replaced ambassadors as their countries’ representatives.
Opening the debate, Rice noted there had long been dispute about whether the theme was a security issue and hence something the Security Council was authorized to address.
“I am proud that today we respond to that lingering question with a resounding ‘yes’,” she said. “This world body now acknowledges that sexual violence in conflict zones is indeed a security concern.
“We affirm that sexual violence profoundly affects not only the health and safety of women but the economic and social stability of their nations.”
But. (Oh, there’s always a but.) While I really, really want to be happy about this — after all, it’s big news, right? A historic moment! — I feel a distinct sense of discontentment. For fuck’s sake, people, it’s 2008. I mean, do we understand this? Two thousand eight. Two thousand fucking eight. And we’re just finally getting around to this . . . now? It took until 2008 for the United Nations to recognize sexual violence as a weapon of war? What the hell is wrong with this picture? I hate to look a gift horse in the mouth, but I really can’t let this pass without comment. It’s bad enough that sexual violence is a weapon of war, and that for the most part, we clearly don’t give a shit. We couldn’t even bother to put it down on paper? What kind of world are we dealing with? And we’re supposed to be grateful for it?
More than that, though, I’m skeptical about how much of a “gift” it is, anyway. There’s the simple fact that I don’t trust U.N. resolutions to actually, well, do anything. Of course, we’ll have to wait and see whether or not any effort is actually made towards implementation. But the cracks are already showing.
The resolution had been negotiated for weeks between council members and with human rights and women’s groups. Diplomats said China and Russia, which both voted in favour, had watered down some language, including on sanctions.
Chinese Deputy Ambassador Liu Zhenmin told the council it should focus on preventing conflicts in the first place and that sexual violence “should not be treated as a stand-alone issue, nor should attention be given to its symptoms only.”
The problem is of course, Darfur. Russia and China have helped to arm the genocide in Darfur and have opposed or directly undermined any real effort on behalf of the U.N. to intervene in the conflict. The fact that Darfur is one of the areas where rape is most widely being used as a war tactic is no coincidence here.
Oh, and then there’s the little issue of the U.N. itself being part of the problem. And while the role of U.N. peacekeepers in perpetuating sexual violence is acknowledged in the resolution, self-policing always seems particularly difficult to actually pull off.
You can read more, including the full resolution, here. Perhaps someone with a bit more knowledge on this sort of thing can give it a read and let us know whether or not it has any real teeth. Am I just being hugely pessimistic? What do others think?