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RIGHTS: Security Council Backs Advocate for Women in War Zones

Suzanne Hoeksema

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 1 2009 (IPS) - The U.N. Security Council Wednesday called on Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to appoint a special representative to intensify efforts to end sexual violence against women and children in conflict situations.

Speaking as the current chair of the Security Council, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stressed that, “The dehumanising nature of sexual violence does not just harm a single individual or a single family or even a single village or a single group – it shreds the fabric that weaves us together as human beings, it endangers families and communities, erodes social and political stability, and undermines economic progress.”

The resolution was sponsored by more than 60 countries, including Rwanda, Croatia and Bosnia, where rape was widely used as a weapon of war.

The special representative would oversee the implementation of two Security Council resolutions: 1325, passed in 2000, which urged to all parties in conflicts to “respect women’s rights and increase their participation in peace negotiations and post-conflict reconstruction processes”; and 1820, passed in 2008, which “affirmed the ambitions set out in 1325 and established a link between maintaining international peace and security”.

The secretary-general’s report on “Women, Peace and Security”, released this week, said that despite efforts to promote both resolutions – with positive examples coming from Liberia and Rwanda – “progress in implementation is limited and armed conflict continues to have a devastating impact on women and girls”.

Of particular concern is the gravity and brutality of sexual crimes committed in North and South Kivu, the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where 1,100 rapes were reported each month with an average of 36 daily. More than 10 percent involved children 10 years old or younger.

Sexual violence has worsened since the beginning of this year in areas controlled by both the insurgent Force dèmocratiques de libération du Rwanda and the Uganda-based Lord’s Resistance Army, as well as in areas of deployment of the recently integrated Congolese Army.

While the DRC and the Darfur region of Sudan are perhaps the most widely publicised examples, rape as a tactic of war has been and is still used in war zones across the world such as Bosnia, Burma, Sri Lanka, Timor-Leste, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Cote d’Ivoire, Chad and Burundi, Clinton noted.

“In too many countries and in too many cases, the perpetrators of this violence are not punished, and so this impunity encourages further attacks,” she added.

While overrepresented in numbers of victims and underrepresented at the peace negotiation table, women have successfully led grassroots peace movements in communities shattered by violence, from Guatemala to Northern Ireland.

The U.N. Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) points out that women have been largely neglected as third-party mediators and even as representatives of the U.N. in conflict-affected countries.

For example, a group of women’s activists from the eastern DRC seeking to participate in peace talks was excluded from the process, UNIFEM said.

Ever since the adoption of Resolution 1325, civil society groups have repeatedly criticised the Security Council and the U.N. administration for failing to act decisively to protect women from sexual violence, implement gender-sensitive peacekeeping mandates, and include women as equal partners in negotiations.

A senior U.N. post to tackle the delay in pushing these issues forward was long lobbied for by international civil society organisations.

“While the U.N. spent years debating, untold thousands of girls and women around the world have suffered ruined bodies and ruined lives,” said Marianne Mollmann, women’s rights advocate for Human Rights Watch.

The implementation of prior resolutions was not only slow, but inadequate, activists complain.

“The responses to gender-based violence have been ad hoc and ineffective, despite growing concern and increasing amounts of money earmarked for sexual violence programmes,” said Melanie Teff, gender advocate for Refugees International.

Both Teff and Mollmann told IPS that leadership and expertise were among the most important differences made in this resolution.

“Leadership enhances efficiency and improves accountability and both are crucial to the implementation of Resolution 1325 and 1820,” Mollmann said.

The proposed special representative should start with the realisation of the resolutions on the U.N. field level because the peacekeeping missions lack in knowledge, capacity and confidence on how to deal with sexual violence properly and sensitively.

When the U.N. leads by example, member states might be more willing to follow, Mollmann expects.

Teff also urged the new appointee to ensure “rapid deployment of teams of experts to situations of particular concern and make sure that these teams get the support that they need to carry out their job”.

The representative should get out of the U.N. headquarters and “go and visit those countries where the population is heavily affected by sexual violence in or after armed conflict”, she said.

The representative should advocate directly with governments – including the military, the judiciary, and other armed groups involved in the conflict – to address sexual violence in armed conflict, Teff told IPS.

With all eyes on the new post to be filled, a spokesperson for the secretary-general could not yet specify when the special representative would take office.

“The experience shows that administrating new senior posts takes up lots of time. But nine years have passed now. Women who have been raped should not made to wait any longer,” Mollmann said.

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