Washington — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton takes her campaign against sexual violence in conflict to the United Nations today, just as political strife in Guinea provides a fresh example of the kind of grisly actions she wants the world organization to stop.
Secretary Clinton, who has committed to making women’s issues a “centerpiece” of her work as the Obama administration’s chief diplomat, will chair a session of the UN Security Council on women, peace, and security. At the session Wednesday, she’ll promote a US-sponsored resolution that seeks to expand and strengthen a measure approved last year, which condemns the use of rape in conflict and characterizes it as a threat to peace and security.
Clinton was moved to seek additional action against the growing use of rape as a result of her visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in August. She met with some of the estimated 200,000 victims of sexual violence in the country’s war-torn eastern region.
“Meeting with survivors of rape, which is now used increasingly as a tool of war, was shattering,” Clinton told a New York audience in the run-up to last week’s UN General Assembly meeting. Addressing a separate gathering of female heads of state and foreign ministers, she said, “There are people who say, ‘Well, women’s issues is an important issue, but it doesn’t rank up there with the Middle East or Iran’s nuclear threat or Afghanistan and Pakistan.’ I couldn’t disagree more.”
As Clinton prepared this week for the Security Council session, reports poured in from Conakry, capital of the West African nation of Guinea, accusing the military of resorting to mass rapes as part of a crackdown on opposition protesters. In a statement Tuesday condemning the military’s assault, the State Department reported that at least 157 people had been killed and hundreds of women protesters and bystanders had been raped or otherwise sexually assaulted.
“The reports we’re getting are of the prevalent and systematic targeting of women caught up in the demonstrations,” says Briggs Bomba, director of campaigns at Africa Action in Washington.
The resolution to be considered at the Security Council aims at situations like that in Conakry. The text of the resolution calls for the appointment of a special representative to the UN secretary-general who would coordinate and lead efforts to end sexual violence in armed conflict.
The resolution also calls for providing services to the victims of sexual violence and prosecuting perpetrators of the crime, US officials say. But its central purpose is to increase the intensity of the international focus on sexual violence in conflict.
Dampening some of the enthusiasm for the proposed resolution – expected to pass unanimously — is the fact that in some cases, international action has led to an increase in sexual violence.
Sexual violence in eastern Congo, already prevalent, skyrocketed when an internationally backed Congolese military force entered the region. And in recent years, some critics note, UN peacekeepers deployed to some conflicts have been accused of sexual abuse.
But action like the US-sponsored resolution can have a positive impact, says Mr. Bomba of Africa Action. “Every time sexual violence has broken out in some conflict – we’ve seen it in Darfur, in southern Sudan, in Liberia, in Rwanda, in eastern Congo — there’s a systematic response to such violence as well. That then dies down in a few days,” he says. “Appointing a special representative to keep on these cases could be significant.”