On March 29, the 10th anniversary of the adoption of Resolution 1888, which created the mandate for the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, the U.N. Secretary-General released his annual report on conflict-related sexual violence (S/2019/280).
“While the United Nations increasingly addresses the problem of sexual violence in conflict from an operational or technical perspective through the strengthening of security and justice institutions, it remains essential to recognize and tackle gender inequality as the root cause and driver of sexual violence,” the report noted.
A few weeks later, and after a series of tense negotiations, Resolution 2467 (2019) on sexual violence in conflict was adopted on April 23 by a vote of 13 in favor to none against, with two abstentions (China and the Russian Federation).
The new resolution focuses on recognizing of children born of rape, taking a survivor-centered approach, imposing of sanctions, ensuring justice and accountability, and providing reparations for victims of sexual violence in conflict.
This might be seen as a positive step toward achieving gender equality and addressing women’s needs during conflict, but the adopted draft of the resolution was watered-down due to opposition from the U.S., China, and the Russian Federation.
In particular, the establishment of a formal mechanism to monitor and report atrocities was omitted.
Despite the changes, the U.S. threatened to veto the resolution because it included language on victims’ support from family-planning clinics, even though the language had been used before in previous resolutions related to sexual violence, such as Security Council Resolution 2106. Caving to U.S. pressure, Germany removed the language regarding “sexual and reproductive health” to secure American support.
The Trump administration has expressed reservations regarding references to sexual and reproductive health as an extension of its stated hostility toward women’s health globally.
One of President Donald Trump’s first moves upon taking office was to restore and expand the Mexico City policy, also known as the Global Gag Rule, which restricts organizations receiving U.S. funding from offering, informing, or encouraging access to abortion services in their countries. This move comes despite evidence showing that the Gag Rule has not achieved an overall reduction in abortions; rather, where it has disrupted family planning services, the policy is more likely to have increased the number of abortions.
In recent months, the Trump administration has taken an extreme position by refusing to agree to any U.N. documents that refer to sexual or reproductive health, on grounds that such language implies support for abortions.
The administration also opposed the use of the word “gender” because it promotes transgender rights. In March, the U.S. delegation to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) tried and failed to roll back support for the landmark 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. The administration was accused of trying to weaken international women’s rights benchmarks in areas relate to sexual and reproductive rights.
These moves highlight the growing influence of Christian social conservatives on Trump’s administration. This year’s U.S. delegation to CSW included Valerie Huber, a proponent of abstinence-only sex education and now a senior policy advisor in the Department of Health and Human Services, as well as Bethany Kozma, an anti-choice activist and senior advisor for women’s empowerment at the U.S. Agency for International Development. Moreover, these policies align the U.S. with countries continuously attempting to marginalize women’s rights such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Russia.
Allowing the U.S. to effectively remove this language on sexual and reproductive rights could set a precedent and empower countries such as Saudi Arabia to push their conservative agendas on women’s issues.
U.S. success in removing this language from the new resolution highlights the Trump administration’s advancing efforts to undermine women’s rights one word at a time. It sets a dangerous precedent wherein the U.S. was able to hold the resolution hostage through threat of veto until the changes were accommodated.
Institutional attention to sexual violence in armed conflict is relatively new. In the past two decades, the scope and harm of sexual violence in conflict has been made visible and now is better understood, partially due to Security Council resolutions from Resolution 1325 (2000) onward – 1820 (2009); 1888 (2009); 1889 (2010); 1960 (2011); 2106 (2013); 2122 (2013) and 2242 (2015).
These resolutions call for special measures to protect women and girls from gender-based-violence such as rape and other forms of sexual abuse, as well as other forms of violence in situations of armed conflict. It calls on Member States to put an end to impunity and to prosecute those responsible for war crimes including those related to sexual and other violence against women and girls. It also calls on Member States to consider the special needs of women and girls in repatriation, resettlement, rehabilitation, reintegration and post-conflict reconstruction.
The adoption of Resolution 2467 in its diluted form could risk weakening the women, peace and security agenda because it removes language that has been used and agreed upon in previous resolutions on sexual violence, thus halting the gains of recent decades of international recognition of women’s rights.
The current resolution has abandoned its original objective of guaranteeing maximum protection for victims and ensuring accountability for perpetrators. A survivor-centered approach cannot be achieved without the survivors’ access to sexual and reproductive healthcare.
It is important to note that reproductive health includes not only abortion, but also the right to have access to contraception in the aftermath of rape in order to prevent pregnancy, as well as the right to health services that take account of reproductive and sexual health in the aftermath of sexual violence.
Forcing women to carry children to term who are the result of violent sexual encounters constitutes a secondary violation of women’s rights and further exacerbates their exclusion, stigmatization, and emotional trauma.
Dr. Anwar Mhajne is currently a Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow at Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts. She is a political scientist specializing in international relations and comparative politics with a focus on gender and politics. She is a cofounding member of the Center for Progressive Security.
Follow her on Twitter: @mhajneam.
All views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or positions of The Defense Post.
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