Last week, the U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution to systematically address sexual violence in conflict. The resolution recognizes that “rape and other forms of sexual violence can constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity or a constitutive act with respect to genocide.” It furthermore acknowledges that rape can be a war tactic:
The resolution also noted that women and girls are particularly targeted by the use of sexual violence, including in some cases as “a tactic of war to humiliate, dominate, instil fear in, disperse and/or forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic group”. Stressing that such violence could significantly exacerbate conflicts and impede peace processes, the text affirmed the Council’s readiness to, where necessary, adopt steps to address systematic sexual violence deliberately targeting civilians, or as a part of a widespread campaign against civilian populations.
The resolution calls in strong language for systematic steps to be taken to address sexual violence in conflict zones. This is excellent news. I am also pleased that the members of the council recognize that in order to address sexual violence and create lasting peace, women need to be involved in the negotiations and peace-building steps:
“We must do far more to involve women in conflict prevention, peace negotiations and recovery after the guns fall silent,” he said, stressing that he needed Member States to come forward with more women candidates. Referring to the all-female Indian civil police unit in the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) as a possible model, he said that, when Member States send qualified personnel, the United Nations could demonstrate the central role of women in restoring stability to war-ravaged countries.
On the issue of Untied Nations operations, the Secretary-General said: “Let me be clear; the United Nations and I personally are profoundly committed to a zero-tolerance policy against sexual exploitation or abuse by our own personnel.” By creating a culture that punished violence and elevated women to their rightful role, “we can lay the foundation for lasting stability, where women are not victims of violence, but agents of peace”, he added.
Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro also addressed the meeting, which featured the participation of nearly 60 speakers, saying that sexual violence had not only grave physical and psychological health consequences for its victims, but also direct social consequences for communities and entire societies. “Impunity for sexual violence committed during conflict perpetuates a tolerance of abuse against women and girls and leaves a damaging legacy by hindering national reconciliation,” she said.
Ms. Migiro added that tackling this complex problem on all fronts would require the combined effort of all, including Governments, the United Nations system, as well as civil society and non-governmental organizations. She called women “one of our greatest assets” in the fight against such horrific crimes. “If we promote the full and equal participation of women in the security sector, we can ensure that security services effectively identify and respond to their needs,” she added
Echoing that sentiment, General Assembly President Srgjan Kerim said that women must be assured equal and full participation in conflict resolution and peacebuilding processes, and represented in the structures and institutions realized from any peace dividend to ensure that it lasted.
I applaud these words. It will not be possible to create peace if we implicitly accept violence targeted towards one half of the population, and do not include that half of the population in building peace. It is important both symbolically and practically that the U.N. Security Council has publically condemned sexual violence and recognized the importance of women being viewed and treated as equals.