Womens rights are human rights and human rights are not only universal, they are also indivisible. With these bold words Amnesty International launched a major worldwide campaign to put the human rights of women on the public and government agendas in the run up to the United Nations conference on women, scheduled for Beijing in September.
For millions of women the 1990s have meant terror. Today what unites them internationally - transcending barriers of race, class culture, religion, nationality and ethnic origin - is their vulnerability. Most of the civilian casualties of war are women and children; most of the world's poor are women and children. The great failure of the world community of governments is not just that they have been unable to guarantee women their social, economic and cultural rights - the theme of the forthcoming UN conference - but that they have been unable to prevent and in some cases have sanctioned the violation of womens civil and political rights: the right not to be raped, tortured, killed, made to "disappear", arbitrarily detained or imprisoned.
In a fragmented and volatile world, all human rights are under threat. During conflicts - whether international wars, civil wars, or low intensity insurgencies - the human rights of non-combatants are invariably at risk. Torture, massacres, "disappearances" become mere tactics; human rights are secondary to military advantage. Women suffer especially. They are caught up in conflicts largely not of their making. They become the butt of reprisal killings. They already make up most of the world's refugees and displaced people. Often left to raise families by themselves, they are raped and sexually abused with impunity, their bodies considered almost as spoils of war.
Rape and the abuse of women have been reported in almost every modern situation of armed conflict, whether internal or international in nature, Amnesty comments. …