Today, June 19th, is the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict. Introduced by the United Nations in 2015, it intends to draw attention to the many human rights violations in conflicts and war zones with special regard to sexual violence. The necessity of an international day shows that sexual violence happens today and frequently in current conflicts around the world.
„This is your Nuremberg moment. Your chance to stand on the right side of history“. These words were used by the human rights lawyer Amal Clooney to urge the security council of the United Nations to pass resolution 2467, which aims to strengthen women* in war and conflict zones. Especially the sections on reproductive rights represent necessary measurements to ensure the safe treatment of women*, who are predominantly at risk in wars and armed conflicts.
In April 2019, Germany had the chance to make a difference as Germany chaired the United Nations Security Council. While German politicians and media decried the Chairmanship as a missed opportunity, it is undeniable that the German delegation set some important impulses. German foreign minister Heiko Maas, with support of many prominent activists, put forth a resolution for the protection of women* in areas of crisis aiming to fight sexual violence in conflicts with the goal of strengthening victims of such crimes. The resolution intends to hold parties in armed conflicts accountable and calls on them to simultaneously end and further prevent sexual violence. Additionally, it includes passages for treatment and legal options for survivors of sexual violence in all member states of the United Nations and aims to strengthen non-government actors in this field.
Despite the binding nature of the resolution it remains to be seen to what extent member states of the United Nations are willing to implement the resolution.
Resolution 2467 and women* in war
It would be reasonable to assume that countries would favor such a resolution and pass it unanimously. But far from it. While Russia and China abstained, the United States of America actively demanded significant deterioration, threatening to veto the resolution and thereby preventing it from passing. The delegation of the United States required that all language concerning reproductive rights of women* should be removed from the resolution. It is unfortunate and disappointing that Germany bowed down to the demands of the United States, especially on the important issue of reproductive rights.
Women* are especially at risk in war zones. Rape and other forms of sexual violence are used as a weapon of war and are recognized as such. This comes as a heavy psychological and physical toll to the victims. Women* and girls* are primarily at risk of becoming victims of sexual violence, being targeted by militias and armies, often with broader intentions of destructing communities and forcibly relocate ethnic groups. This happens in all parts of the world, but currently most notably in the Democratic Republic of Kongo. International organizations and non-government organizations agree with the necessity to put war criminals committing such atrocities behind bars and prosecuting their crimes.
Domestic issues halt international progress
With its attempts to refuse survivors of sexual violence necessary care, the United States bows down to right wing special interests. Despite the constitutional right to a termination of pregnancy in the United States, the United States deny the rights to women* in conflict situations all over the world.
This fits into a broader narrative of the American government denying the rights of women*domestically and abroad. In the United States, the Trump administration cracked down on reproductive rights, rolled back contraception affordability and tried to influence the national conversation on reproductive rights to fit Republican Party lines. On the international stage, the administration was quick to issue a ban on funding of reproductive health care, threatening many health programs, and is also known for attempts to roll back international women* rights acts.
Later in the process of drafting the resolution, the United States derailed completely, opposing both the word “gender“ in the resolution due to an alleged association with transgender rights and the idea of support of family planning clinics for victims of sexual violence. A European diplomat described the actions of the United States as an “attack on the progressive normative framework established over the past 25 years“.
The international community needs to take action now
It is important and necessary that reproductive rights of all people worldwide are protected, and the German government should work with other progressive countries to fight for rights of women*, LGBTQI+* people and victims of all forms of sexual violence. Human rights violations need to be addressed, regardless of where they occur and actions taken ensuring the safety of women* against all kinds of sexual violence. One step would be a permanent, independent UN-body to investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity.