By Alison Bowen
Thursday, June 19, 2008
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice moderated a U.N. Security Council debate on a U.S. resolution on wartime rape and led a second session on Zimbabwe, calling for more international pressure on President Mugabe.
(WOMENSENEWS)--U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice capped off a discussion of wartime rape at the United Nations Security Council Thursday with a separate session upbraiding Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe for allowing violence in his own country.
"It's time for international pressure," Rice said.
Amnesty International has issued eight reports in June alone on Zimbabwe that offer accounts of kidnappings, murders, assaults and burnt homes unbridled by state security forces "unwilling to act." Twelve more bodies, most tortured, were found June 19 in the country, Amnesty International reported.
Mugabe, disputing March 29 presidential election results that showed he lost the election and which he did not release for months, has scheduled a June 27 runoff with opposition leader Morgan Tsvangira. Widespread reports of violence, including killings of activists, have been reported since the disputed election.
Mugabe has been arresting opposition leaders and last week threatened war against the leading opposition party rather than yield power to them.
The United States has been pushing for more intervention in Zimbabwe. The House of Representatives passed two resolutions June 18 condemning Mugabe's role in his country's violence.
South Africa has played the role of mediator in the election results dispute and has been conducting a campaign of "quiet diplomacy." That approach has been widely criticized by the West for protecting Mugabe, a former rebel in arms with South Africa's ruling African National Congress against colonialism.
Burkina Faso Foreign Minister Djibrill Bassole joined Rice after the second session, saying in French that the situation in Zimbabwe was dramatic and needed international attention.
In the first session, Rice presided over a debate on a U.S. draft resolution to protect women from rape during conflicts. The resolution labels rape a weapon of war that destabilizes regions and curtails the post-war healing process.
Women systematically raped by regimes' armies is as unacceptable as genocide, says the draft wording.
The international community has long considered rape a crime of war, but Rice told the Security Council Thursday that for years the question has been whether the United Nations was responsible for protecting women and girls from violence in armed conflicts.
"I'm proud that today we respond to that question with a resounding 'yes,'" Rice said. "It is our responsibility to be their advocates and defenders."
The two sessions were suggested by the United States, which in June holds the rotating presidency of the U.N. Security Council.
The resolution establishes pre-deployment training programs for all U.N. peacekeepers on preventing and responding to sexual violence against women in wartime.
The resolution calls for Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to submit a report by June 30, 2009, on the implementation of these measures.
The U.S. document--called a concept paper--acknowledges that sexual violence in armed conflicts has occurred throughout history. But it says brutal rapes--including gang rapes, mutilations and kidnappings into sexual slavery--are increasingly common.
The resolution reaffirms the Security Council's 2000 resolution to protect women and girls from wartime violence but says not enough has been done.
United Nations sources on the ground say that thousands of women who seek medical help following a rape say their rapists were gangs of soldiers and other armed men, the U.S. document says.
Secretary-General Ban briefed the council about the launch of an awareness campaign in March, Women's History Month, about sexual violence in conflict zones. He said the U.N. needs to offer effective training for national military and police forces and close monitoring of human rights. He said all perpetrators need to be prosecuted.
The secretary-general also stressed that more female peacekeepers will create a safer climate for women in countries assisted. "Send me your female troops," he said and promised to make sure all are considered and the maximum possible are deployed.
The United Nations' own peacekeeping forces have been accused of raping and abusing women in Haiti and Liberia.
In presiding over the hearings, Rice is expanding her profile as an ambassador for female victims of violence.
In March, she spoke at two women's events in Washington. At one--the March 10 International Women of Courage Award ceremony--she lauded female leaders around the globe for courage in the face of violence.
At the other--a March 12 panel on justice for abused women--she joined former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and Avon Chief Executive Officer Andrea Jung. "There is nothing sadder in many ways than the violence that is done against women," Rice said at that event.
At that event Jung announced a partnership with the United Nations Development Fund for Women, better known as UNIFEM, to provide a $1 million donation to the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women.
Jung described the donation as the largest corporate grant awarded to the trust fund in a year and said it will be used to provide legal support to domestic violence survivors.
Funding will "help institutionalize the protection of women's legal rights and enforce laws where they exist," Jung said.
As secretary of state, Rice is able to travel internationally and highlight important causes.
Her new emphasis on women's issues comes as George W. Bush's presidency winds down and she mulls the future. Publicly she has expressed an interest in returning to the University of Stanford, where she worked since 1981 through 1993 as a professor of political science and as the school's provost until 1999.
In October 2007, Sen. Barack Obama, now the Democratic presidential presumptive nominee, wrote an open letter to Rice urging her to investigate and halt continued sexual assaults in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
One report estimates that 30 percent of women raped in the Congo contracted the AIDS virus. About 60 percent of fighters have the virus, the same report estimated.
Alison Bowen is a New York City-based reporter covering the presidential campaign for Women's eNews. Her work also appears in the New York Daily News.
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