Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Security Council Gets It

At the end of last week, the U.N. Security Council (left and below right) unanimously adopted Resolution 1820, an historic resolution addressed to women, peace & security. As guest blogger Amy Senier describes above, this initiative was sponsored and chaired by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (below right). The last time the Security Council comprehensively addressed women, peace and security was eight years ago, with Security Council Resolution 1325. That resolution, for the first time, systematically considered how conflict affects women and children, recognized women's role in preventing and resolving conflict, called for the equal participation and full involvement of women in efforts to maintain peace and security, and advocated a gender perspective in peacekeeping. Resolution 1820 reiterates and expands upon these concerns.

The Resolution recounts how violence against women in situations of armed conflict has reached pandemic proportions and “appalling levels of brutality.” Indeed, Maj. Gen. Patrick Cammaert, a former U.N. peacekeeping commander, testified before the Council that

It has probably become more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in an armed conflict.

For example, a World Health Organization survey of women in Liberia has revealed that 75 percent of women surveyed had been raped during the country’s civil war. (Photo below left is a clinic for women in Liberia that regularly sees rape victims--photo credit).
For most of human history, the rape and sexual abuse of women associated with the enemy was an expected spoil, inevitable by-product, or legitimate tactic of war. Even today, when such conduct is clearly unlawful under international humanitarian law, violence against women is often employed as a deliberate “tactic of war to humiliate, dominate, instil fear in, disperse and/or forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic group,” as noted by the Resolution. The presence of peacekeepers may actually increase the danger to women, and the Council's Resolution specifically condemned abuses and exploitation of women by U.N. peacekeeping forces.

A key observation contained in the resolution confirmed that sexual violence against women

can significantly exacerbate situations of armed conflict and may impede the restoration of international peace and security.

Accordingly, the Council acknowledged that

effective steps to prevent and respond to such acts of sexual violence can significantly contribute to the maintenance of international peace and security.

Notwithstanding these key observations, China, Russia, Indonesia and Vietnam apparently all raised the question of whether sexual violence in armed conflict is a matter for the Security Council, whose mandate is to address threats to and breaches of international peace.
As has been demonstrated by such landmark cases as Akayesu (ICTR), Furundžija (ICTY), and Kunarac (ICTY), rape and other forms of sexual violence can constitute a war crime, a crime against humanity, and a predicate act of genocide. The Security Council stressed the importance of ending impunity for such acts and ensuring women and children equal protection under the law and equal access to justice. To this end, the Council called on states to exclude sexual violence crimes from any amnesty provisions promulgated in conflict resolution processes. The Council also encouraged states to structure their judicial and health systems to provide sustainable support to victims of sexual violence in armed conflict and post-conflict situations. The Council threatened to consider "targeted and graduated measures" in its sanctions regimes against parties employing sexual violence in situations of armed conflict.

It may be tempting to critique the Resolution as just one more example of toothless rhetoric emerging from the United Nations. It has the potential, however, to have real consequences when it comes to ensuring that acts of sexual violence are prosecuted before the International Criminal Court and other international and domestic tribunals. The ICC Statute in particular contains a number of "gravity" clauses that could be invoked to limit the jurisdiction of the Court or influence prosecutorial discretion. For example, Article 1 indicates that the Court is empowered to exercise its jurisdiction over persons for "the most serious crimes of international concern." Likewise, Article 8(1) indicates the Court has jurisdiction over war crimes "in particular when committed as part of a plan or policy or a part of a large-scale commission of such crimes." To convict an individual for war crimes for criminal acts committed during a time of war, the prosecutor must demonstrate some nexus with the armed conflict.
By recognizing that acts of sexual violence are serious, exacerbate armed conflict, and are often the result of a deliberate policy to subjugate an enemy community, Resolution 1820 will dispel arguments that sexual violence is a private or peripheral matter, unconnected to public events of international importance.

Resolution 1820 also requests the Secretary-General to submit a report a year from now on the implementation of this resolution in the context of situations on the Council's agenda.
So, stay tuned...

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