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Saturday, June 21, 2008

UN denounces rape as weapon of war

Agence France-Presse
First Posted 11:53:00 06/20/2008

UNITED NATIONS -- Diplomats from around the world on Thursday urged an end to the persistent plague of sexual violence during armed conflicts at a meeting at UN headquarters.

"Rape is a crime that can never be condoned. Yet women and girls in conflict situations around the world have been subjected to widespread and deliberate acts of sexual violence," said US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

She was chairing debate in the UN Security Council to demand an immediate end to the use of rape and all acts of sexual violence against women as weapons of war.

The day-long debate, at the initiative of the United States, which chairs the 15-member council this month, was to adopt a resolution that "demands the immediate and complete cessation by all parties to armed conflict of all acts of sexual violence against civilians with immediate effect."

"Today's resolution establishes a mechanism for bringing those atrocities to light," the US chief diplomat said.

She stressed the text directs that the UN secretary general prepare an action plan for collecting data on the use of sexual violence in armed conflict and then reporting that information to the council.

Rice cited the example of Myanmar where she said "soldiers have regularly raped women and girls even as young as eight years old.

"What is tragic also in that country is that instead of being allowed to take the office as the elected leader of Burma's government, [opposition leader] Aung San Suu Kyi is marking her [63rd] birthday this very day under house arrest," the US chief diplomat said.

"We cannot forget as we examine this issue other women activists who struggle for freedom under violent environments," she added.

Rice also referred to widespread acts of sexual violence in countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Sudan.

Human rights groups have repeatedly denounced the horrific cases of rapes and other brutal acts of sexual violence against women by all parties in the conflict in DRC, particularly in the Kivu region.

Rice also highlighted acts of sexual violence perpetrated by UN peacekeepers in several countries around the world.

"As an international community we have a special responsibility to punish perpetrators of sexual violence who are representatives of international organizations," she noted.

In his remarks, UN chief Ban Ki-moon stressed the world body was "profoundly committed" to its zero-tolerance policy against sexual exploitation or abuse by our own personnel."

"Violence against women has reached unspeakable and pandemic proportions in some societies attempting to recover from conflict," he said.

"We have to view this problem in the broader context of women's empowerment ... We must do far more to involve women in conflict prevention, peace negotiations and recovery after the guns fall silent," he said.

France's secretary of state for human rights Rama Yade said those responsible for sexual violence amid armed conflict should be hunted down and brought to trial even before the International Criminal Court.