The UN Security Council demanded on Thursday that warring governments and factions act to halt violence against women, saying rape was no longer just a by-product of war but a military tactic.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who chaired part of the session, told the council the world had now recognised that sexual violence during conflicts went beyond individual victims to affect nations' security and stability.
Echoed by a string of speakers, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the 15-nation council the problem had “reached unspeakable and pandemic proportions in some societies attempting to recover from conflict.”
Maj. Gen. Patrick Cammaert, a former UN peacekeeping commander, told the meeting: “It has probably become more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in an armed conflict.”
Speakers identified former Yugoslavia, Sudan's Darfur region, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Liberia as conflict regions where deliberate sexual violence had occurred on a mass scale.
UN officials have said the problem is currently worst in eastern Congo. But a recent survey of 2,000 women and girls in Liberia showed 75 per cent had been raped during the West African country's civil war.
A US-sponsored resolution adopted unanimously by the council called sexual violence “a tactic of war to humiliate, dominate, instill fear in, disperse and/or forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic group.”
It said the violence “can significantly exacerbate situations of armed conflict and may impede the restoration of international peace and security.”
It called on parties to conflict to take immediate measures to protect civilians from sexual violence, said such crimes should be excluded from amnesty after conflicts, and warned that the council would consider special measures against parties that commit them when imposing or renewing sanctions.
The resolution also called on Ban to submit a special report on the issue next year and tighten procedures for stopping abuses by UN peacekeepers, who have been accused of sexual offenses in several countries.
Ban said he was “profoundly committed to a zero-tolerance policy” and would strengthen disciplinary procedures by holding not just individuals but their supervisors accountable.
The United States, council president for June, chose sexual violence as the theme of the month's debate on a general issue. As well as Rice, several government ministers replaced ambassadors as their countries' representatives.
Opening the debate, Rice noted there had long been dispute about whether the theme was a security issue and hence something the Security Council was authorised to address. “I am proud that today we respond to that lingering question with a resounding 'yes',” she said. "This world body now acknowledges that sexual violence in conflict zones is indeed a security concern. “We affirm that sexual violence profoundly affects not only the health and safety of women but the economic and social stability of their nations.”