The UN Security Council has approved a resolution that demands warring governments and factions act to halt violence against women, calling rape a war crime and a component of genocide.
Sexual violence in war is nothing new. Accounts of women being raped by conquering armies as "spoils of war" go back centuries. But the resolution says rape is not just a by-product of war, but a military tactic. In recent times, the Balkan wars of the 1990s alerted the world to the use of rape as a weapon of conflict.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Security Council that violence against women had reached "unspeakable and pandemic proportions" in some places recovering from conflict.
The resolution was welcomed as a "historic achievement" by Human Rights Watch, which said the world body had all too often ignored the problem.
These days, the problem is worst in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Major General Patrick Cammaert told the meeting he witnessed the impact of rape as a UN peacekeeping commander in eastern Congo. He described such violence as a "particularly potent tool of war", as it dehumanizes its victims. "It has probably become more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in an armed conflict", he said.
It’s not just warring factions that are accused of rape. UN peacekeepers themselves have been accused of sexual offenses in several countries. The resolution calls for more vigilance in stopping and preventing such abuses.
Its practical impact, however, remains unclear. Ban is expected to report back on its implementation in a year.
(Cross-posted at bird of paradox)