UNITED NATIONS, New York (WOMENSENEWS)–At the start of Women’s History Month in March, Margot Wallström began her two-year assignment to stop sexual violence from being used as a tactic in war–as a matter of global security.

Her job calls on her to implement U.N. Resolution 1888, passed by the Security Council in September, one of the major milestones in women’s history that her appointment culminates.

Before the late 1990s, sexual violence wasn’t generally considered any kind of issue, says Anne-Marie Goetz, chief advisor of governance, peace and security for UNIFEM.

Rape camps in Bosnia were "horrifying" and systematic sexual violence in Rwanda was "on a level never seen before," but indictments didn’t occur until years later, she said. Neither peace agreement mentioned sexual violence.

Those charges brought public attention to convictions of three Bosnian Serbs for wartime sexual enslavement as a crime against humanity–a first for the International Criminal Tribunal–and led to Resolution 1325. Passed 10 years ago by the Security Council, the document articulated war’s impact on women.

Though 1325 "lacked accountability measures to encourage progress," said Letitia Anderson, it opened doors to a watershed 2008 conference about women in armed conflict, held in Wilton Park, England. Anderson is an advocacy and women’s rights specialist for U.N. Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict, a coalition of 13 U.N. entities. The talks included "the unusual suspects–force commanders, military and police peacekeepers," Anderson added.

Missing Link at Policy Level

Anderson presented a paper on the need for a "systematic framework to respond to these crimes," which she called the missing link at the policy level.

Her message resonated and in August 2008 the Security Council passed Resolution 1820, recognizing sexual violence as a war crime and a major impediment to peace.

In September 2009, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presided over the Security Council’s passing of 1888, the agreement that Wallström is now charged with implementing.

Anderson likens 1820 to a "blueprint" of sexual violence’s link to security; 1888 provides the "building blocks" for its implementation.

Wallström, the former vice president of the European Council, says she knows that "beautiful language" in a number of "historic and groundbreaking" women, peace and security resolutions, including 1888, doesn’t immediately help the thousands of women who remain targets of sexual violence in armed conflict and post-conflict zones.

"We must create political ownership of this issue, where both men and women everywhere can say, ‘Enough is enough. We have to end this,’" Wallström said in a recent telephone interview with Women’s eNews. "I am a person who knows how to cooperate, how to fully utilize the resources of everyone around me and to mobilize that. That is what I can promise to bring."

Wallström has said she will focus immediately on conflict and post-conflict situations in three African countries: the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Sexual violence in conflict zones, however, isn’t an "African issue," Wallström is quick to point out, describing gender-based violence as a global "human rights issue, a security issue."

Elisabeth Roesch, gender-based violence advocacy officer for the International Refugee Committee, based in New York, expressed confidence in the 55-year-old Swedish politician.

"We’ve never really had a champion, advocate or leader within the U.N. before to mobilize people and address sexual violence in conflict zones," Roesch said in a telephone interview. "It’s a powerful, very real, position."

Wish List for Wallström

Roesch ticked off some of the objectives she hopes Wallström will pursue: ending legal impunity of those who perpetrate sexual violence; conducting an independent, external analysis of the U.N.’s systematic response to sexual violence; improving documentation of sexual violence; and strengthening health services for survivors of abuse.

Inala Fathimath, a special funds consultant for the UNIFEM-Afghanistan program, based in Kabul, says better documentation is important in Afghanistan, where sexual violence in conflict zones is not yet well quantified.

"We don’t have any statistics, but we certainly do have the accounts that sexual violence against women is widespread in conflict zones," Fathimath said. "It makes a huge difference just to have someone out there, solely dedicated to talking about these issues, and potentially bringing these concerns to the Security Council."

Corinne Dufka, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, now based in Dakar, Senegal, emphasizes the need to end sex violators’ legal impunity.

"We need more naming and shaming," she said. "In the Democratic Republic of Congo, we’ve tried everything: public education, reports, humanizing the problem. But what we need to do is engage more with men, at all levels, to really understand this problem from the perpetrators’ narrative."

Wallström herself stresses the importance of assembling a strong, diverse six-person staff to help her navigate the U.N. system.

Resolution 1888 does not address U.N. peacekeepers abusing the very women they are supposed to aid, says Goetz. "That remains an enormous and serious issue."

The U.N. has a zero-tolerance policy on peacekeepers inflicting sexual violence on others and handles allegations of exploitation and abuse in its Conduct and Discipline Unit.

After making its assessment, the unit defers to its member nations, which handle convicted peacekeepers in their own fashion, said Genevieve Butler, the Conduct and Discipline Unit’s external affairs officer.

Amy Lieberman is a journalist based in New York City who writes primarily for a Brazilian newswire out of the U.N. Secretariat.

For more information:

Working Group on Women, Peace and Security

U.N. Conduct and Discipline Unit

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