UNITED NATIONS — Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last Friday demanded global action to stop government forces and armed groups from using sexual violence “like a grenade or a gun” to pursue their goals.
He told the U.N. Security Council that the perpetrators generally operate with impunity, and he called for stepped up efforts nationally, internationally and by the U.N. to prevent and respond to sexual violence.
“Parties to armed conflict continue to use sexual violence with efficient brutality,” Ban said. “Like a grenade or a gun, sexual violence is part of their arsenal to pursue military, political, social and economic aims.”
The U.N. chief announced that he was in discussions with other U.N. partners to appoint a new senior U.N. official to address sexual violence. He urged the council to immediately authorize the establishment of an independent commission of inquiry into violations of human rights and humanitarian law in conflicts in Chad, Congo and Sudan, including rape and sexual abuse of women and girls.
The secretary-general also pointed to “the brutal, predatory and deliberate targeting of civilians” by the Lord’s Resistance Army whose activities have destabilized Sudan, Central African Republic, Uganda and Congo.
“In Burundi, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the fighting may have ended but sexual violence persists on a very serious scale,” he added.
Ban spoke during a daylong debate on progress toward implementing a Security Council resolution adopted in June 2008 on “Women, Peace and Security,” which demands that all parties to armed conflicts immediately halt “all acts of sexual violence” and take measures to protect women and girls from rape and sexual attacks.
In his progress report to the council last month, Ban said data collected by the U.N., though incomplete, “shows a disturbing picture of the use of sexual violence against civilians in armed conflicts and their aftermath.”
In eastern Congo, for example, he said at least 200,000 cases of sexual violence have been recorded since open hostilities began in 1996, citing figures from the U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF. In Sierra Leone, he said, women and girls were abducted and forced to “marry” combatants. And at the former Yugoslav war crimes tribunal, sexual violence was found to be part of the attacks directed against civilians in a third of the completed cases, he said.
Ban called for strict compliance with international law by governments and rebel groups and urged U.N. sanctions committees to compile lists of names and parties who perpetrate sexual violence.
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice told the council that she promised a tearful rape victim in Congo that she would do everything she could — and that the council could — “to end this horrible systematic violence that she and so many others had experienced.”
She called for stepped up efforts “to ensure that rapists and other perpetrators of sexual violence are identified and punished” and said the United States will support domestic, international, or hybrid bodies that investigate and prosecute these crimes.
“We should use targeted measures to thwart sexual violence as a tactic of war,” Rice said.
She said Ban’s call for a commission of inquiry “deserves serious consideration” and she backed his recommendation to incorporate provisions against sexual violence in armed conflict into U.N. sanctions.
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