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UN Security Resolution on Sexual Violence: US threat to Veto Puts Women’s Rights in Jeopardy

The US has put women’s rights in jeopardy after weakening a UN measure on sexual violence. The Security Council resolution was adopted on 23 April 2019 after a heated debate in which members debated for over 3 hours on Resolution 2467. The resolution was adopted, but excluded references in the text to sexual and reproductive health, after the US strongly opposed the language used.

The resolution was backed by a vote of 13 in favour, with abstentions from China and Russia. The Council called upon,

“Warring parties around the globe to implement concrete commitments to fight what many speakers described as the heinous, barbaric and all-too-often silent phenomenon of sexual violence during conflict.”

US reaction

The US initially threatened to veto the resolution on combatting the use of rape as a weapon of war because of its language on reproductive and sexual health, but last-minute concessions got the US back on side. Recently, the US has taken an increasingly hard line approach to any UN documents that refer to sexual or reproductive health. Women’s rights and human rights campaigners have long criticized moves of the Trump administration that have seemed to move women’s rights backwards since the president was inaugurated in 2017.

Kaylie Hanson Long, a spokeswoman for Naral Pro-Choice America, a pro-choice advocacy group. said to the Guardian,

“This administration is the worst we’ve ever seen for women and families,”

The debate

The Security Council were briefed by a number of experts including Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Nadia Murad from Iraq, who recalled that Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) enslaved thousands of Yazidi girls and women before the eyes of the world in a genocide that continues today. She said:

“I think this resolution is a step in the right direction. But adopting this resolution must be followed by practical steps to achieve reality.”

Dr. Denis Mukwege, another Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, gynecologist and human rights activist, who has treated women who have been raped by armed rebels in Congo was also present. He expressed support for all initiatives seeking to draw a red line against sexual violence in conflict, he pressed the United Nations and Governments to adopt sanctions against perpetrators.

“Healing is complete only when justice has been served,”

Renowned human rights Barrister Amal Clooney shared her experience providing legal counsel to women previously kidnapped, bought, sold, enslaved and raped by ISIL. Clooney said, “If this august body cannot prevent sexual violence in war, then it must at least punish it,” and added,

“This is your Nuremburg moment.”

International Response

Lord Tariq Ahmad of Wimbledon said that the UK backs the resolution but expressed regret about omission on reproductive healthcare. He said,

“We emphasise the need for a survivor-centred approach. Survivor services should cater to all survivors – with no exception.”

But he added: “We deeply regret the language on services for survivors of sexual violence, recognising the acute need for those services to include comprehensive reproductive and separate sexual healthcare.”

Amanda Klasing, acting women’s rights co-director at Human Rights Watch, said,

“…the world cannot become accustomed to the fact that the Trump administration wants to deny survivors of sexual violence in conflict access to healthcare and is willing to pressure countries into backtracking on global agreements in an effort to advance its extreme discriminatory views on sexual and reproductive rights.”

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