A crisis growing at alarming rates, the use of rape as a weapon of war was brought under the international spotlight at the U.N. Security Council on June 19th. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and representatives of more than sixty nations attended the meeting led by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, which ended with the adoption of a U.S.-written resolution on sexual violence as a security issue.
A war crime under international law, thousands of women and girls have been raped in the course of armed conflicts. Acts of sexual violence often involve gang rape, mutilation or forced sexual slavery, and in some instances, these atrocities are committed in front of the victim’s husband or children.
Sexual violence was used to target civilians as a tactic of war during the civil wars in Liberia and Rwanda, and as a method of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. Warfare rape continues to be a serious problem in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
According to a study in Liberia by the World Health Organization, ninety-one percent of respondents said they were subjected to one or more acts of abuse or sexual violence during the country’s civil war. And the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes reported that since 2005 more than thirty-two-thousand cases of sexual violence have been registered in the South Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The U.S.-proposed resolution demands for all parties in armed conflict to take immediate action in protecting civilians. It also calls for the council to put more pressure on those who perpetrate this injustice, including the exclusion of sexual violence crimes from amnesty.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Security Council members have debated for years whether or not sexual violence could be considered a security issue. And today, Rice said, the world answered the lingering question “with a resounding ‘yes’”:
“We affirm that sexual violence profoundly affects not only the health and safety of women but the economic and social stability of their nations.”