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Senior UN officials call on Member States to address rape as a weapon of war

Senior UN officials call on Member States to address rape as a weapon of war

On the eve of a Security Council debate on the role of women in peace and security, two senior United Nations officials have stressed the need to combat gender-based violence and to ensure that violations of women’s rights, including the use of rape as a weapon of war, are viewed as a security issue.

“The woman’s body has become a battleground and it seems to be taken for granted that this should continue,” Rachel Mayanja, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, said at a press briefing at UN Headquarters, stressing the responsibility of Member States to address the question of rape.

Tomorrow the 15-member Council is set to discuss progress in implementing resolution 1325, a landmark document adopted in 2000 which recognizes the contribution of women to the maintenance and promotion of peace and security, while acknowledging their specific needs and concerns in armed conflict and its aftermath.

The resolution calls in particular for measures to protect women from gender-based violence, including rape and other forms of sexual abuse.

“The most serious sign of inadequate implementation is the phenomenon of sexual violence as a weapon of war,” stated Joanne Sandler, acting Executive Director of the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM).

“It is absolutely essential that the Council takes this up, particularly the issue of remedial measures, of judicial response and of prevention,” she added.

The use of rape as a weapon of conflict has been denounced by numerous UN officials, including the world body’s humanitarian chief.

Briefing the Council last month after returning from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where serious humanitarian problems remain even after the end of major fighting in most of the country, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes reported that “brutal sexual violence is a particularly horrific feature of the DRC.”

“For many victims, registering a case and speaking out means almost certain ostracism by their own family and community,” he told the Council. “In any case, the chances of redress in a situation of virtually total impunity are close to zero.”

Stating that reports of rape in different conflict areas, particularly the DRC, are “just the tip of the iceberg,” Ms. Sandler called on the Council and Member States to address such violations. “It’s a security issue that needs the Council’s attention not once a year but much more frequently than that so that we can have the kind of action and response that is required.”