/ 10 November 2007

SA responds to US in UN rape resolution row

South African diplomats have expressed shock at strong United States government criticism of the country’s stance over a United Nations resolution, introduced by the US, that condemns rape by governments and military formations.

In an article in the New York Times on Thursday, the US accused South Africa of obstructing an American-drafted General Assembly resolution that would specifically condemn rape and sexual abuse used by governments and armed groups to achieve political and military objectives.

While the resolution does not mention any countries by name, the Bush administration has cited accusations that rape is being employed by soldiers and militia members as a tactic for intimidation and warfare, notably in Sudan and Burma.

”The South African position is shocking,” said Kristen Silverberg, the assistant secretary of state for international organisation affairs, ”given South Africa’s long struggle against oppression.” She noted that the South African government takes a strong domestic position against sexual violence.

Silverberg said the South Africans are demanding watered-down language that would make the resolution one about sexual violence in general rather than one about sexual violence sponsored by governments.

”We think there is a real difference between governments that fail to prevent rape and governments that actively promote it, and we do not want the resolution to blur that difference,” she told the newspaper.

Asked about Silverberg’s comments on South Africa’s position, Baso Sangqu, the country’s deputy ambassador, was quoted as saying: ”I am shocked about that statement because we have been working very closely within the African group to find agreement on this resolution.

”We are objecting to the resolution because it is politicised and singles out clear categories of rape. We want a resolution that is non-politicised and that looks at rape in a holistic manner in all its situations, including rape by soldiers in detention centres and in situations of foreign occupation.”

On Friday, South Africa’s ambassador to the United Nations, Dumisani Kumalo, echoed Sangqu’s comments.

”As usual our US colleagues are being very disingenuous, because what they were trying to get us to do is to support a resolution only condemning rape by military and government institutions. We are saying we want to condemn rape in all its forms,” said Kumalo, who is currently in South Africa.

Kumalo said the US introduced the resolution about 10 days ago in a committee that dealt with humanitarian and social matters.

”Rape is rape. We don’t want rape to be dealt with selectively. It is a cruel and despicable crime. We said rape should be condemned in all its manifestations, that it does not matter if it’s perpetrated by governments or individuals. The Africa group within the United Nations introduced our amendments. It was Angola who actually introduced them.”

Kumalo said the Africa group met the US delegation on Thursday night and drafted a resolution that is ”now well-balanced, that condemns rape in all its manifestations including by governments and military formations”.

”The Africa group has persuaded the US to change the resolution,” he said. — Sapa