By Ray L Martin
Editor at Large
22 May 2012, 23:11 GMT
“Daily accounts of Burmese army burning down villages, raping the Kachin women, bombing innocent natives, arresting and torturing local residents are reported from local sources.” Asian Correspondent dot com
Women worldwide are not safe, and this is a fact. In the UK, approximately 80,000 women will be raped in 2012, and the vast majority will not have access to rape crisis centres (End Violence Against Women). Within a single year in the US, around 207,754 women and girls over the age of 12 will be sexually assaulted – yet 94% of the perpetrators will walk free to hurt again (stats via RAINN). And even as startling and disgusting as those statistics are, these numbers can almost sound welcoming in comparison to what is to follow.
48 women are raped every single hour of the day in The Democratic Republic of the Congo, that’s 419,328 women viciously raped and sexually abused every single year. 80% of refugees worldwide; that equals millions of women and children that are displaced by famine, political upheaval and ethnic cleansing, which equals hundreds of thousands of sexual assaults to baby-girls as young as 1 month old and women up to 100 years of age.
For western women, there are rudimentary ways to prevent assault, such as championing for increased policing, access to self-defense, combating legislation such as House Bill 4970, and the freedom to organise women to combat rape and domestic abuse.
For a woman in a conflict zone, options dissipate into the wind. Aid organisations, news outlets, and humanitarian physicians offer little assistance in protecting women from the vicious onslaught of assault. Perpetrators can be police, international and local soldiers, peacekeeping soldiers and men within their own families.
It seems very bleak. Except that the Convention to End All Forms of Discrimination Against Women makes it quite clear:
“…any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.” CEDAW
The UN Security Council is a principal body of the United Nations with the primary goal of maintaining international peace and security when complaints of threats to international peace are brought before its 15 members. If conflict has already erupted, the UN Security Council’s first charge is to end the conflict as swiftly as possible, and it has in past and present conflicts issued cease-fire directives.
As a risk-mitigating thread to its operations, the UN issues resolutions which are informed by the needs identified during conflicts and from a wider understanding of the spirit implied in the conventions derived from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). UN Security Council resolutions directly inform international law and indirectly informs local penal codes within the wider international community.
Sex crimes are largely dealt with via local penal code, (the local court systems), unless in cases where mass sexual assaults occur during conflicts or as part of political torture tactics during conflicts. But as we know, the nature of conflict has changed drastically within the last 30 years, and with the reality of Sharia law and ‘witch-camps’, we can no longer depend on local justice to ensure women’s safety. Even in the US- with the Violence Against Women Act, we see how governments can fall out of favour with already existing statutes designated to protect women.
In the wake of the Bosnian, Rwandan and Ugandan conflicts, we see there are definite protracted after-affects whereby women continue to be victimised even when the shooting has stopped. In order to combat this, the UN Security Council drafted and ratified 4 resolutions from 1999-2000 to ensure governments took civilians and children into account during and importantly, after conflict. As these resolutions proved somewhat helpful but largely inadequate, international human rights activists lobbied for a more powerful and directed resolution for protection of women and children.
This was Resolution 1325, a victory for international women’s rights activists everywhere. Yet, based on data compiled by 80 countries, 1325 has fallen below expectation:
“One after another, U.N. functionaries and government representatives of over 80 countries took the floor to express gradations of mild disappointment, reciting the approved texts of their capitals with a level of dispassion seldom seen in the real world”. Paula Donovan, Resolution 1325 has Failed Women
The crux of the problem surrounding the issue is that many women and children are victimised in increasingly more complicated conflict situations.
Resolution 1325 was adopted by unanimous decision, calling for a more gender focal perspective inclusive of the totality of the needs of women and children during repatriation and resettlement, reintegration and post-conflict reconstruction. Yet, 12 years later it’s questionable whether this resolution has had any affect on maintaining the safety and security of women and children in post-conflict zones. In 2010, is was proven that Resolution 1325 failed to prevent the devastating rapes of 500 (one victim being a one-month old boy) within miles of a UN peacekeeping station in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Moreover, the resolution doesn’t aptly deal with sexual assaults resulting from general foreign operations or government sponsored military operations, e.g., marshall law during state-wide uprising’s. In 2010, the 10th anniversary of the adoption of resolution 1325 was marked with reports of rampant abuse of women and children by armed police, military personnel and even peace-keepers. In Uganda, 600 incidents of sexual abuse were reported – some resulting in death during an eviction of illegal immigrants.
Some states found resolution 1325 helpful in their fight against sexual assault. In Burundi, March 2012, it was reported that resolution 1325 had a tremendously positive effect on the Burundian penal code. But in this case, implementation had to be forced by pressure from Burundi activists and lobby-groups. The stark differences seen between Uganda and Burundi illustrate that at best, Resolution 1325 is a starting point for discussion, a reminder that sexual assault is one of the worst forms of human rights violation.
“Equally importantly, 1325 is an
important tool for women, giving
recognition to their peace work,
enabling them to mobilize on a global scale to assert their claims and demands for a place at the table where issues of war peace and security are resolved”. Sanam Anderlini, “1325 is a Starting Point”
The UN Security Council is a fundamentally critical body for maintaining the safety and security of peoples worldwide, within every country. Yet, its effectiveness under it’s current structure is only as strong as member states willingness to participate within the civil process. The UN has 192 member states, and yet in the 12 years since drafting 1325, more countries engaged in armed conflict than talks surrounding implementation.
There is a delicate balance here. As we all know, its important countries maintain their sovereignty. Yet, we still have to face the reality that countries are slow in responding to the needs of women. All engagements, whether they’re internal (mass evictions) or external (war conflicts) where surges in police and military personnel are needed, should be treated as serious risks and potential threats to vulnerable civilian populations, such as women and girls. This may seem extreme, but all trends point to where there is an increase numbers of overzealous militarised men; impoverished non-militarised women and children are at risk of rape.
Its important that we emphasise the severity and frequency of these crimes, ensuring that perpetrators are brought to justice in a timely and expedient manner.
The UN Security Council must take a harder line in ensuring resolutions are taken seriously and escalated to appropriate tribunals where there are noted humanitarian breaches. The lack of clear and executable action plans dealing with the plight of women in and after conflict couldn’t be a clearer example of a humanitarian breach. The tightening of the UNs grip on International Law and punishment will ensure rogue governments are able and held to the maintenance of safety and security for their citizens.
“Woman should have every honorable motive to exertion which is enjoyed by man, to the full extent of her capacities and endowments. The case is too plain for argument. Nature has given woman the same powers, and subjected her to the same earth, breathes the same air, subsists on the same food, physical, moral, mental and spiritual. She has, therefore, an equal right with man, in all efforts to obtain
and maintain a perfect existence.” Frederick Douglass (1817-1895), quote dating back to 1888.
Ray L Martin is a film editor who writes around International Law and Human Rights.