United Nations Security Council Meeting Room. Photo: Zack Lee, CC
Today, on April 17, the UN Security Council discusses the UN Secretary General’s 2013 report on sexual violence in war and conflict. The report highlights several emerging concerns, such as the practice of forced marriage by armed groups and the links between sexual violence and natural resource extraction.
“It is important that the UN Security Council continues to keep the focus on this issue. The Security Council plays a key role in preventing and combating the prevalence of sexual violence in war and conflict,” says Lena Ag, Secretary General of The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation, and continues:
“But it is worrying that sexual violence used against political dissidents, as happened during the riots after the Kenya elections in 2007 and in Conakry in Guinea in 2009, is not mentioned in this year’s report, as it was in the last year’s. Nor can rape and serious sexual harassment Egyptian women recently suffered in Tahrir Square in Cairo be found in the report. Our experience is that sexual violence and the threat thereof is one of the most common obstacles for women around the world to get access to the public sphere and to gain influence in society.
This year’s report states that:
- sexual violence is a serious war crime and elucidates that there is an evident connection to international peace and security;
- sexual violence and the number of rapes in Mali have increased;
- sexual violence is often used as a strategy to forcibly displace populations and for ethnic cleansing. One of the reasons is to get access to coveted natural resources or to facilitate drug trafficking. This happens for example in Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria and Libya;
- in Syria, rape happens at some places and at certain times to such an extent that it could be classified as war crime and crimes against humanity. Jailed Syrian men have also been reported to be victims of rape and torture;
- forced marriage and sexual slavery has become increasingly common. Militia and guerrilla leaders in e.g. Afghanistan, Mali, Sudan, South Sudan, the Central African Republic and Yemen abduct young girls, marry them for then be able to “legally” rape them. Other victims of sexual violence are forced to marry their abusers. This way the perpetrator gets away from punishment;
- activists, opposition, local politicians and their families are particularly vulnerable to threat of sexual violence and sexual violence.
The report also provides recommendations:
- women who get pregnant after being raped should be offered adequate care and access to safe abortion or emergency contraception pills;
- impunity for perpetrators of sexual violence should be counteracted and prohibited;
- efforts should be made for better monitoring and reporting on men as victims of sexual violence.
“In recent years, conservative forces with religious leanings take every opportunity to try to limit women’s rights. We saw this most recently in March at the UN’s
After the UN Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, the UN Security Council adopted in 2000 the Resolution 1325 “Women, Peace and Security
,” which is about women’s rights and participation as actors in peace processes. It was followed by the Resolutions 1820
, which further strengthen articles of Resolution 1325 (1889), and specifically target sexual violence in conflict (1820, 1888, 1960).
Commission on the Status of Women. An unholy alliance between the Vatican and Iran amongst others used every opportunity to put a spoke in the wheel of the effort to reach an agreement to end violence against women,” says Lena Ag and continues:
“It is therefore an important signal that the powerful G8 countries, with British conservative Foreign Secretary William Hague at the helm, adopted a declaration in support of the UN’s efforts against sexual violence in conflict last week.”
Anna Magnusson | Katharina Andersen
Her last day in office Margot Wallström (middle in flowery blouse) visited the Swedish women's right and peace organization The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation. The crossed armes is the symbol for the UN campaign Stop rape now! Photo: Sara Lüdtke/The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation.
After two years as the first ever UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Margot Wallström on May 31st left her office. We met up with her on her last day, to talk about the achievements made and the many things still left to be done.
- Somehow it feels like this mission starts and ends with Congo, Margot Wallström says.
She is sitting in her homecountry of Sweden, trying to prepare for her new life as a non-UN worker. But her mind is filled with gruesome images sent to her as late as the day before.
- It was a lot due to the terrible situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with mass rapes and increasing sexual violence, that this office and its mandate came into place. And now, again, we recieve these horrifying photos of massacres that have taken place in Eastern DRC; photos of dead women whom I believe also had been raped. I am really worried that this will escalate into a genocide. They are hacking each other to death with machetes now, just like in Rwanda. The international community has to react, and not just with words, but physically go there and put pressure on the government.
The DRC has gotten the not so flattering nickname ”the rape capital of the world”, and crimes of sexual violence has continued in the country also during ceasefires. But Margot Wallström points out that there have been achievements made as well.
- We have managed to get military courts in the DRC to try cases of sexual violence. There have been 250 prosecutions so far. But I would really like the Congolese government to do a lot more. Like in the cases of the massacres taking place right now, where are the governmental officials? Noone seems to be putting any demands on them.
Breakthrough with Resolution 1960
Born: 28 September 1954, in Kåge in northern Sweden.
Family: Married, two children.
Career in short: Active in the Swedish Social Democratic Party 1977-1988. Minister of cultural affairs 1994-1996 and Minister of health and social affairs 1996-1998. 1999-2004 Member of the European Commission, in charge of issues regarding the environment and sustainability. 2004 appointed first Vice President of the European Commission, a position she held until 2010, when she became the first UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict.
On future plans: – I have accepted to become Chairman of the board at Lund’s University in Sweden. Otherwise I’m not sure. I will spend some time at home now to figure out what I want to do next.
The widespread problem of impunity for crimes of sexual violence and rape has been one of the main issues on Margot Wallström’s agenda as Special Representative. And one of the major breakthroughs during her period in office was the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1960 in 2010, that requests the provision of detailed information on suspected perpetrators of sexual violence during armed conflict..
-When I started out I remember talking to a colleague at UNICEF about how we would be able to define success. You know, there are no easy ways to define and quantify objectives like these. She said that it would be a huge success if we were to get the UN Security Council to state that they are prepared to use the same methods to stop these types of crimes, as when it comes to crimes of violence against children. And with Resolution 1960 we actually got there, she says.
With the support of UNSCR 1960 the Special Representative can produce a ”name and shame” list in her annual report. This means putting names and faces to the warlords and armed groups suspected of crimes of sexual violence in conflict. Resolution 1960 also gives the Security Council the option to exercise sanctions against groups or nations in order to put a stop to ongoing crimes of this nature. In short it underlined sexual violence as an important part of the Security Council’s agenda.
- Now they make statements about these issues and incorporate them when writing new mandates. Of course, now and then they do still forget about them – as recently, regarding Syria. I called Kofi Annan up personally and told him that I thought it strange that they had put together a peace mission group without including any gender experts. And he agreed right away, so now we have sent one, who will be part of his team of UN observers, Margot Wallström says.
Still seen as “women stuff”
But it is far from that easy all the time, to get the people (mostly men) in power to recognize the sincerity of what her office is working with.
- It is not uncontroversial, I mean there are countries that doesn’t like these kind of special mandates. Pakistan, India and China, for example, constantly try to push back these issues. For them it’s like: ”is this really relevant for the Security Council? We are working with peace and security here, this women stuff, should we concern ourselves with that?”.
Stories of violence
But they should, and they have to, because the severe situation for women all over the world is not changing at any high speed. Margot Wallström’s last trip when in office, was to Colombia, a country that most people normally don’t associate with conflict-related sexual violence. But conflict situations aren’t limited to what you regularly perceive as war.
- In Colombia women are being subjected to these crimes by all armed groups within the country. The sexual violence is present everywhere, from the mass rapes conducted by the FARC guerilla, to the everyday threats and violence.
- We went to an area where a lot of IDPs (internally displaced persons) were living and it turned into a kind of reception. They placed us in a local store and I sat there with two garden chairs and a long cue of women lining up to tell me their stories: ”My husband is trying to kill me, he chokes me every night”, ”he has knocked my teeth out”, ”I lock the door to my bedroom every night at six, because he always comes home ragingly drunk”.
Hope in spite of the pain
Of course this situation isn’t unique for Colombia. Everywhere Margot Wallström has travelled during these two years, she has seen the same patterns of women being held back, beaten and tortured. And it is not always an easy task to listen to all these painful testimonials.
- Sometimes we almost censor our own reports, because there are such appalling atrocities taking place that you feel like people just won’t believe they are true. I have gotten really depressed and walked with a heavy heart, for sure. But at the same time these women carry on, they pick up their burdens and continue working for human rights. There is so much inspiration and hope in that.
Footnote: The mandate of the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict has been prolonged indefinitely. Margot Wallström’s successor has not yet been announced.