UN backs weakened resolution on sexual violence in conflicts

The vote on the German-drafted resolution was held after intense last minute negotiations and additional changes in wording. (Reuters/Mike Segar)

The vote on the German-drafted resolution was held after intense last minute negotiations and additional changes in wording. (Reuters/Mike Segar)

Nobel Peace Prize laureates Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege called Tuesday for justice for victims of sexual violence in conflict zones, as the United Nations Security Council approved a watered-down resolution largely stripped of substance by the United States and Russia.

The vote on the German-drafted resolution was held after intense last minute negotiations and additional changes in wording. Thirteen countries voted in favour while Russia and China abstained.

Both those countries said they opposed sexual violence in conflicts, but denounced “lax interpretations” in the text and a “manipulated” struggle to create new UN structures and “override” mandates already approved.

France vehemently criticised the United States for threatening to use its veto over a reference in the text to reproductive rights, seen by Washington as an encouragement of abortion.

Speaking before the vote, Murad and Mukwege decried the international community’s failure to act.

“Not a single person has been charged for sexual slavery,” said Murad, speaking at the United Nations about massacres of her Yazidi community by the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.

“The hopes of an entire generation have been destroyed,” the Iraqi human rights activist added, speaking of the “collective failure” of the international community to intervene.

“We give speeches at the UN but no real measures have been taken (in terms of obtaining justice) and nothing has been done.”

Mukwege, a Congolese doctor who like Murad was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018, asked: “What is the international community waiting for to give justice for the victims?”

He also called for the establishment of national and international courts to try the perpetrators of sexual violence in conflicts.

Human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, who represents Murad and other Yazidi victims, denounced the weak international response.

She accused the United States and Russia of opposing a judicial system to hold the perpetrators of these crimes to account, as has been done for past horrors committed in Bosnia, Cambodia, Sierra Leone and Rwanda, or at the Nuremberg trials after World War II.

‘It’s scandalous’

“If we don’t act now, it will be too late,” Clooney said, pointing to the thousands of Islamic State group militants currently being held.
“I agree that we are facing an epidemic of sexual violence. And I believe that justice is the antidote.”

The German text initially sought to establish a formal working group, set up a mechanism to help bring to justice those responsible and develop victims’ protection by giving formal recognition to their sexual and reproductive rights.

China, Russia and the United States opposed the mechanism, the working group was scrapped and Washington threatened a veto if the text spoke of reproductive rights.

“We deplore that the veto threats were brandished by permanent members of the council to challenge 25 years of gains in favour of women’s rights in situations of armed conflict,” France’s ambassador to the United Nations Francois Delattre said after the vote.

US President Donald Trump’s administration last month toughened a ban on the use of taxpayer money to support abortion overseas, and has stepped up its dispute with the International Criminal Court.

Delattre expressed dismay “that a state has demanded the removal of a reference to sexual and reproductive health, which has been approved” in previous resolutions.

“It is intolerable and incomprehensible that the Security Council is unable to recognise that women and girls who have suffered sexual violence in times of conflict, and who have obviously not chosen to be pregnant, have the right to the choice to terminate their pregnancy,” he said.

A diplomat said the resolution had been “reduced so much that it’s now inadequate and there isn’t much left.”

Another added: “The Americans have taken negotiations hostage based on their own ideology. It’s scandalous.”

In a joint statement, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden said they “deeply regretted” the lack of reference to victims’ rights due to the threat of a US veto.

“Services for survivors of conflict-related sexual violence, such as access to emergency contraception and safe termination of pregnancies, must be strengthened,” noted Norwegian ambassador Mona Juul.

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