U.N. deems sexual attacks a security issue

Times Staff Writer

The U.N. Security Council affirmed Thursday that rape and other forms of sexual violence can constitute war crimes, and called for measures to combat such attacks.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice introduced the U.S.-sponsored resolution at a special session attended by diplomats from 60 nations.

Rice said the resolution brought an end to a debate about whether sexual violence was a security issue and belonged on the council’s agenda. A similar resolution last year failed to pass, with several members disputing the need for it.

“I am proud that today we respond to that lingering question with a resounding yes,” she told the Security Council. “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.”

The resolution established U.N. procedures to monitor sexual violence in armed conflicts and called for the secretary-general to report in one year on their implementation. It also urges the U.N. to impose sanctions on violators.

Advocacy groups pushed the issue back onto the council agenda after China, Russia and South Africa said last year that sexual violence was an unfortunate byproduct of war and one that was addressed by a number of U.N. agencies, but was not a matter of international peace and security.

The resolution also urged the secretary-general to clamp down on peacekeepers who prey on vulnerable women and children instead of protecting them.

Despite an attempt by the U.N. to revamp the regulations and culture among peacekeepers and staffers after incidents of sexual exploitation over the last few years in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, reports of further abuses surfaced last year in several countries.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the council that he was committed to “zero tolerance” and “zero impunity” for sexual abuse by U.N. personnel and urged countries that provide troops to follow through with prosecution because the U.N. has no authority to try the perpetrators.

He pledged to strengthen the world body’s code of conduct and hold supervisors accountable for assaults committed by soldiers and staffers.

The presence of high-level female officials at Thursday’s meeting was deliberate. Rice chaired the gathering. France’s secretary of state for human rights, Rama Yade, called for the prosecution of sexual violence at the International Criminal Court. British Atty. Gen. Patricia Scotland denounced recent attacks on women in Zimbabwe, especially the killing Wednesday of the mayor’s wife in the capital, Harare.


The wives of the U.S. and British ambassadors to the United Nations also have worked to raise awareness that rape is a deliberate war tactic meant to intimidate and destroy communities, as seen in the former Yugoslav federation, Sudan’s Darfur region and Congo.

After adopting the resolution, the council held an informal session to condemn increasing violence in Zimbabwe in the run-up to the June 27 presidential runoff election.

Next week, the Security Council will have its first formal meeting on the violence there and will be briefed by U.N. envoy Haile Menkerios, who was in Zimbabwe on Thursday.

South Africa, China and Russia have blocked official discussion so far, saying it would be interfering in a nation’s internal affairs.


Rice cited concern among council members that “free and fair elections cannot possibly be held” in Zimbabwe because of the increasing intimidation of and violence against the opposition by the government of President Robert Mugabe, who is seeking reelection.

“I think that the mood in the room was one of extraordinary concern and a desire for President Mugabe to hear that there is tremendous international concern about what is happening in his country,” the secretary of State told reporters after the meeting.

“I don’t see anything that President Mugabe has done that has been helpful to Zimbabwean people, so maybe it’s time for international pressure.”