Rape as weapon of war shattering lives

2010-10-20 22:16

Paris - Sexual violence as a weapon of war and as an outcome of turmoil and disaster is inflicting a terrifying toll on women, the United Nations said on Wednesday.

"Women rarely wage war, but they too often suffer the worst of its consequences," the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) said in its annual snapshot of the state of the world's population.

"Gender-based violence, including rape, is a repugnant and increasingly familiar weapon of war. The immediate toll it takes extends far beyond its direct victims, insidiously tearing apart families and shattering societies for generations to come."

The report is issued in the run-up to the 10th anniversary on October 30 of UN Security Council resolution 1325, which condemns violence against women and girls in armed conflicts and calls for women to be given a greater role in policing and peace building.

It also coincides with growing international outrage at the evidence of mass rapes - by rebel militia and government troops alike - in a strife-torn region in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

More than 15 000 rapes were committed there last year, the head of the UN force in the DRC, Roger Meece, said last week.

UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid said conflict today was less and less about soldiers confronting each other on the battlefield and more about seeking to break the will of civilians.

Disempowered by rape

"In many of today's conflicts women are disempowered by rape or the threat of it, and by the HIV infection, trauma and disabilities that often result from it," she said.

"Girls are disempowered when they cannot go to school because of the threat of violence, when they are abducted or trafficked, or when their families disintegrate or must flee."

Women and girls also become vulnerable in the aftermath of protracted emergencies, such as earthquakes and floods, where law and order have broken down.

The 116-page report says the outlook is not entirely grim, highlighting the experiences of grassroots workers and self-help groups in Bosnia-Hercegovina, Haiti, Liberia, the West Bank, Uganda and the DRC among other locations.

It stresses the need for protection in legal text and policing and swift judicial redress.

"For war-affected women, justice delayed is more than justice denied - it is terror continued," said Margot Wallstrom, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's special representative on sexual violence in conflict.

"The top priority is to push back against the vicious cycle of impunity," she said.

"No state may refer to national customs as an excuse for not guaranteeing all individuals human rights and fundamental freedoms."

The report also spells out the need for health care and psychological and social support that acknowledges the needs of the individual, for a one-size-fits-all aid package may well be invasive and may backfire.

"Providers of all these services must be knowledgeable, skilled and compassionate to help the survivor and to establish effective preventive measures," says the report.