The world community is struggling to deal with rape in wars. Despite prominent guests, the Security Council, chaired by Germany, does not really get on with the question.
It is a rare group photo: on the left is UN Secretary General António Guterres, on the right Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, between the two the human rights lawyer Amal Clooney and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Nadia Murad. The top-class cast in the UN Security Council shows the importance of sexual violence in conflicts – at least outwardly – today. And yet, the international community is struggling to make even a small step forward in trying to hold the perpetrators of such violent crimes more accountable
Of „thousands of stories that the world has never heard,“ says Maas. He chairs the meeting in New York, as Germany currently chairs the most powerful UN body. There are stories from Myanmar or Syria, for example, where sexual violence against women and girls is used as a „weapon of war“. „We have to do more,“ says Maas. This is also the aim of the draft resolution submitted by Germany: Victims should be able to bring their perpetrators more easily to court and receive more medical and psychological help. The goal is „a life in dignity,“ says Maas.
Maas also received prominent support from actress Angelina Jolie, who has been fighting against sexual violence in crisis areas for years. Victims should be better supported. Too often, offenders get away with it. „This impunity has devastating consequences,“ said Jolie.
Resistance from the USA, Russia and China
But there is resistance behind the scenes. In the text, the US comes across terms related to abortion. Russia and China have also voiced their objections and submitted their own draft according to diplomats. At the beginning of the meeting, it is unclear whether there will be a vote on one or both drafts at all.
Human rights lawyer Clooney speaks of a „Nuremberg moment“ in the council – an allusion to the Nuremberg trials of leading National Socialists after the end of the Second World War. Since the US and Russia considered the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague „dead“ and a failed „experiment“, other countries would have to jointly form their own court to deal with sexual crimes in conflicts.
Ten years ago, the UN set up its own office with a special representative on the subject. For much longer there are rape as a remedy in the war. But only under the impression of the crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as in Rwanda in the 1990er years the community of states became united. The two most important UN resolutions on the subject came in 2000 and 2008. The Rohingya in Myanmar are particularly affected.
„Milestone“ or „undignified“?
After about four hours then starts the vote. With some difficulty, Germany can win the approval of the Americans after a text passage on „sexual and reproductive health“ – including abortion – is deleted. 13 out of 15 council members vote in favor of the resolution, Russia and China abstain. Maas speaks of a „milestone“. On the other hand, France’s UN ambassador Francois Delattre says the paper is „unacceptable and undermines the dignity of women“.
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Murad summed up in her speech at the time what so many observers of the United Nations frustrated: „We come to the UN, make statements, but there are no concrete measures taken.“