International Policy/United Nations

Guinea Rapes Test U.N.'s Stronger Promises to Women

Friday, October 30, 2009

In recent weeks, the U.N. has bolstered a groundbreaking, but largely symbolic, resolution passed in 2000 that identified women's rights and roles during war. Recent public rapes in Guinea now pose a crucial test of their strength.

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Two women's reactions after a rally in Conakry, Guinea, turned violent in September.</NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)--Nine years ago tomorrow, the U.N. Security Council issued Resolution 1325, a turning point for women's rights in international law.

In a watershed moment, the Council said groups in armed conflict were obliged to protect women and girls from violence, and placed women on the peace and security agenda.

The Council also said female peace negotiators needed to be at the table during and after conflict.

Since then, the resolution has been criticized for not explaining which actors were responsible for implementation and how it should be put into motion.

The resolution recognized the toll of war on women and girls, but didn't spell out the repercussions for violators. It did not give the Security Council a chance to use sanctions, its most powerful tool, against countries or individuals. And it left a window open for perpetrators of sexual violence to apply for amnesty.

The worsening of sexual violence in conflict spots has begged the questions left open under the resolution.

In August, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where she met with survivors of sexual violence.

Drawing on that experience, she introduced Resolution 1888 on Sept. 30 to the U.N. Security Council. The resolution, which passed unanimously, created a special representative--not yet announced--to focus solely on sexual violence in armed conflict.

"A crisis of this dimension affecting any other social group would have attracted a special representative long ago," said Anne Marie Goetz, UNIFEM's chief advisor for Governance, Peace, and Security, in a recent phone interview. "There are special representatives for swine flu, avian flu and the food crisis. It's long overdue that there is a special leader appointed to address this emergency."

New Criteria for Sanctions

Resolution 1888 enables the Security Council's sanctions committee to take into account rape and sexual violence as criteria when considering sanctions against nations and individuals. Before, these acts were not included. It also establishes a report that names and shames perpetrators who commit acts of sexual violence for the Security Council to review.

"The sanctions committee is the strongest accountability action tool that the Security Council has," said Goetz. "It could be the freezing of the bank accounts of perpetrators or broader sanctions targeted at a national economy."

The special representative will become the head of U.N. Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict, a 12-agency coalition that includes UNIFEM and the department of Peacekeeping Operations. The envoy will be able to tap into the large resources of these agencies.

Unfortunately, the special envoy is not yet in place to address problems in Guinea, where security forces in September killed dozens of peaceful activists, raped and sexually assaulted female demonstrators and wounded thousands, according to eyewitnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch. At least 150 people were killed.

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