UNITED NATIONS: The UN Security Council has called on warring parties around the globe to implement concrete commitments to fight what many speakers described as the heinous, barbaric and all-too-often silent phenomenon of sexual violence during conflict.
Adopting resolution 2467 (2019) by a vote of 13 in favour to none against, with two abstentions (China, Russia), during a wide-ranging debate on the prevention and implications of sexual violence, the 15-member Council reiterated its demand for the complete cessation of all acts of sexual violence by all parties to armed conflict.
But the resolution was a watered-down version of a German draft in which language on providing “sexual and reproductive health care” to survivors of rape and abuse was eliminated to get US support. The United States had threatened a veto as it claimed that the wording to which it objected amounted to support for abortion.
Both Russia and China said they opposed sexual violence in conflicts, but denounced “lax interpretations” in the text and a “manipulated” struggle to create new UN structures and “override” mandates already approved.
Despite the weakened text, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the resolution would facilitate the punishment of perpetrators of sexual violence, including applying sanctions, and supporting victims.
Maas said that the resolution brought victims to the center of attention. “The resolution calls on all UN member states to support victims through better access to justice, medical and psychological assistance and reintegration into society,” he said.
Calling for implementing specific, time-bound commitments to combat the crime, the Security Council welcomed efforts by the Secretary-General, his Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict and other relevant officials in seeking such commitments and implementation plans, aimed at preventing and addressing all acts and forms of sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict situations.
The Council reiterated its deep concern that — despite its repeated condemnation of violence against women and children in situations of armed conflict, including sexual violence — the phenomenon continues to occur, often with impunity, and in some situations has become systematic and widespread, or reached appalling levels of brutality.
Encouraging Member States to adopt a survivor-cantered approach to ensure that survivors receive the care required by their specific needs without discrimination, the Council also called upon parties to conflict to include stipulations prohibiting such crimes in all ceasefire and peace agreements.
It further urged States to recognize the equal rights of all affected individuals – including women, girls and children born of sexual violence – in national legislation and recognized the need to integrate prevention, response and elimination of the crime into all relevant Council resolutions, including authorizations and renewals of the mandates of peace missions.
Further by the terms of the resolution, the Council urged existing sanctions committees – where within the scope of the relevant designation criteria and consistent with the present and other relevant resolutions — to apply targeted sanctions against those who perpetrate and direct sexual violence during conflict.
It reiterated its intention to consider including designation criteria pertaining to acts of rape and other forms of sexual violence when adopting or renewing targeted sanctions in situations of armed conflict.
Several experts, high-profile activists and survivors briefed the Council at the outset. Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Nadia Murad from Iraq recalled that ISIL/Da’esh enslaved thousands of Yazidi girls and women before the eyes of the world in a genocide that continues today.
The social fabric of an entire society has been torn and the hopes of entire generations wasted, she said, recalling that her repeated calls for the creation of a working group to rescue those still missing or held in captivity have fallen upon deaf ears.
While Yazidi girls and women broke the barriers of silence, stigma and fear by telling their stories, not a single person has been tried for sexual enslavement crimes, she pointed out. Barrister Amal Clooney, a human rights activist, shared her experience providing legal counsel to women previously kidnapped, bought, sold, enslaved and raped by ISIL.
She recalled that as the group’s territorial presence declined, Nadia Murad and other survivors called upon the Council to send investigators to gather evidence in Iraq, and just weeks ago the exhumation of mass graves and the identification of victims remains began. However, the trials brought against suspects do not include charges of sexual violence and do not stand as a measure of justice for Yazidis, she emphasized.
Laying out several legal options — including referral to the International Criminal Court — she recalled that similar discussions about the value of justice emerged after the Second World War. “If this august body cannot prevent sexual violence in war, then it must at least punish it,” she stressed, adding, “This is your Nuremburg moment.”