Rape as a War Crime

By Jayaraman, T. Vishnu | UN Chronicle, June-September 2008 | Go to article overview

Rape as a War Crime


Jayaraman, T. Vishnu, UN Chronicle


Concerned over the security of women and girls in situations of armed conflicts, United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stated that rape was a crime that could never be condoned; yet, women and girls around the world had been subjected to widespread and deliberate acts of sexual violence. Chairing in June 2008 a thematic debate of the Security Council on women, peace and security, Ms Rice said that "we affirm that sexual violence profoundly affects not only the health and safety of women, but also the economic and social stability of their nations."

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro also participated in the debate, in which representatives from more than 60 Member States voiced their concerns. The resolution, introduced by Ms Rice, was a mechanism for bringing these atrocities to light. It also set stage for the Secretary-General to prepare an action plan for gathering information on the desperate acts of sexual violence in situations of armed conflict and in turn periodically report to the Security Council.

The resolution called upon several important measures to protect women, noting that rape and other forms of sexual violence could constitute a war crime, a crime against humanity, or a constitutive act with respect to genocide. It stressed the need for the exclusion of crimes of sexual violence from amnesty provisions in the context of conflict-resolution processes. The resolution also called upon Member States to comply with their obligations for prosecuting persons responsible for such acts. In addition, it urged the Secretary-General and his Special Envoys to invite women to participate in discussions pertinent to the prevention and resolution of conflict and the maintenance of peace and security.

Ms Rice said that there has been a debate about whether sexual violence was a security issue, with several Member States disputing the need for a resolution. "I am proud that today we can respond to that lingering question with a resounding 'yes'. This world body now acknowledges that sexual violence in conflict zones is, indeed, a security concern", she told the Council. She also stated: "We are concerned about the issue of women affected by violence across the world ... As an international community, we have a special responsibility to punish the perpetrators of sexual violence who are representatives of international organizations." Citing instances of sexual violence and abuse by UN peacekeepers in several peacekeeping missions worldwide, Ms Rice stressed that while the individual perpetrator was ultimately responsible for the abuse, Member States were responsible for disciplining and holding their troops accountable for their misdeeds.

Addressing the Council, Secretary-General Ban said that "the United Nations and I personally are profoundly committed to a zero-tolerance policy against sexual exploitation or abuse by our own personnel That means zero complacency. When we receive credible allegations, we ensure that they are looked into fully." Mr Ban also informed the Council that he would appoint a Messenger of Peace tasked entirely with advocacy for ending violence against women. While requesting Member States to come forward with more women candidates, he pledged "to deploy more women worldwide, not just as police, military and civilian personnel, but also at the highest levels of mission leadership". In March 2008, he launched a global campaign, aimed ac tackling all manifestations to end violence against women, including the abominable practice of sexual violence in armed conflict.

Calling upon the UN system, Member States and civil society groups to tackle this complex problem, Ms Migiro recalled that in May 2008 the United Nations Development Fund for Women (unifem) and the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, on behalf of the United Nations Action against Sexual Violence in Conflict, hosted a high-level conference on the role of military peacekeepers and others in responding to this scourge. …

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