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UN Security Council adopts resolution on sexual violence

Saturday, June 21, 2008 by Marianne Elliott

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It has been a long time coming, and some people (quite justifiably) are feeling a little under-whelmed. But for those of us who gave working within the system a shot for a while this is a big day. Here is the official press release from the United Nations Security Council:

The Security Council today demanded the 'immediate and complete cessation by all parties   to armed conflict of all acts of sexual violence against civilians,' expressing its deep concern that, despite repeated condemnation, violence and sexual abuse of women and children   trapped in war zones was not only continuing, but, in some cases, had become so widespread and systematic as to 'reach appalling levels of brutality'.

Capping a day-long ministerial-level meeting on 'women, peace and security', the 15-member Council unanimously adopted resolution 1820 (2008), which noted that 'rape and other forms of sexual violence can constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity or a constitutive act with respect to genocide'. 

As Human Rights Watch has pointed out

'This resolution sends a clear message throughout the UN system: rape is a crime that should be prevented and when it's not, it should be systematically reported and effectively prosecuted,' said [HRW's spokesperson on violence against women, Mollmann]. 'The resolution contains the building blocks for what could finally bridge the gap between good intentions and bad facts. But to have a genuine impact, the Security Council and the United Nations as a whole need to take concrete action.'

The gap between rhetoric and reality, or even between international law and practice, has been gaping wide on issues related to violence against women. Even in my own mission in Afghanistan (where the Taleban's brutal policies repressing women were used shamelessly by the USA as justification for military intervention) I had to fight relentlessly to get resources and energy committed to projects working towards elimination of violence against women.

In the UN system a resolution does matter. These resolutions provide the leverage needed for people within the UN system to continue their tireless work to ensure that the elimination of violence against women is a fundamental precept of all UN peace-keeping efforts. In this case, the resolution provided the platform for the Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, to announce he will "soon appoint a UN envoy tasked entirely with advocating for an end to violence against women". 

Does this duplicate existing mechanisms, like the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women? Maybe. Does the resolution add anything substantive to existing international human rights and humanitarian law? Probably not, since those laws already clearly prohibit all forms of violence against women, including a specific prohibition on the use of sexual violence as a tactic of war.

But the nature of the UN system is that each mechanism has it's own form of administrative power and the Security Council is a particularly powerful body. This resolution, although meaningless in practice without committed follow-up, is important because of the forum in which it has been passed.

It is worth noting, as Tara has, that simply getting the 15 members of the UN Security Council to agree on anything is hard work. Getting unanimous agreement that rape is a tactic of war, and not simply an unfortunate byproduct of war (yes, that was the objection raised to previous attempts to get this resolution passed) is therefore all the more significant.

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5 Responses to "UN Security Council adopts resolution on sexual violence"

  1. ash says:

    But my question is- who will this impact effective immediately? Because honestly, there is a slew of such crimes where governments execute tyranny over their people. And some of those acts come in forms of rape for violence against their female citizens. What do you think?

  2. amy says:

    thank you for drawing our attention to this resolution. i really appreciate the light you shine on important subjects on your blog (and in your work). in my studies and general reading over the years i’ve always felt unsure in my views on the UN but have generally come to the conclusion that a commitment to making a system with potential work is the best of the available options. i recently read Samantha Power’s biography of Sergio Vieira de Mello. it was interesting to get her perspective on a man who was so committed to the UN over a long period of time.

  3. Paris Parfait says:

    A small step – but still an important one, symbolically. Thanks for the nod. xo

  4. t says:

    a small step but still forward right?

  5. Kiwis do fly says:

    A small step? Yes. Any the less important for that? No. Small steps build their own momentum and are often more compelling and (eventually)far reaching than trying to take big leaps. Thanks for keeping us informed on this. Every day, another small step…

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