Men commit wide-scale sexual crimes with impunity in conflict zones, says UN

12 October 2009

The rampant and brutal abuse of women in war zones continues unchecked, the chair of a United Nations committee said today, urging all nations to ratify the international Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

“Violence against women in the context of armed conflict is widespread and largely unpunished,” Naéla Gabr, chair of the committee monitoring compliance with CEDAW, told the General Assembly.

In that context, Ms. Gabr said the committee welcomed the Security Council resolution affirming that it would consider the prevalence of rape and sexual violence in decisions to impose or renew sanctions on countries embroiled in conflict.

Ms. Gabr noted that CEDAW, also known as the international bill of rights for women, has transformed the lives of many women and has been the force behind significant changes in many countries, including through laws, policies and programmes.

However, the potential of the Convention “to bring about change at the national level has not been exploited to the full, much as a result of its lack of visibility and accessibility, and resource constraints,” said Ms. Gabr.

The 30-year anniversary of the Convention provides an opportunity for governments to commit to raising its visibility and impact, said Ms. Gabr. “Our ultimate goal should be the increase of ratifications of both the Convention and its Optional Protocol and the withdrawal of reservations.”

Currently 186 countries are party to the 1979 Convention, with the United States being the only signatory yet to ratify the Convention and several States ratifying with reservations.

Under the Convention, States parties are legally obliged to take the necessary steps to end all forms of discrimination against women in any field whether political, economic, social, cultural or civic.

Countries are also committed to submit national reports – at least every four years – on measures they have taken to comply with their treaty obligations.

The Convention upholds women’s rights to acquire, change or retain their nationality and the nationality of their children. States parties also agree to take appropriate measures against all forms of traffic in women and exploitation of women, and it is the only human rights treaty to uphold the reproductive rights of women.


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