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The Daily Wildcat

 

    United Nations fails to protect women from sexual abuse

    Lauren Myers columnist
    Lauren Myers
    columnist

    The United States recently introduced a United Nations resolution titled “”Eliminating rape and other forms of sexual violence in all their manifestations, including as instruments to achieve political or military objectives.”” To most, this declaration is an obvious moral stance that should be endorsed quickly and without controversy. But here’s the surprise: the resolution failed.

    The statement would have been a timely condemnation of the government-supported sexual brutality that has become commonplace in many parts of the world. Though no nations were explicitly named, human rights abuses in Darfur and Myanmar are widely cited as the inspiration behind this resolution.

    Most people are already familiar with the crimes being perpetrated in the Darfur region of Sudan. Besides being subjected to murder, pillaging and displacement by the government-backed Janjaweed militia, the women of Darfur are also routinely subjected to horrific acts of sexual abuse. Human rights groups have characterized the widespread use of rape, gang rape and mutilation as an effort to dominate and humiliate local communities through the bodies of their women.

    Like the women of Darfur, women from ethnic minorities in Myanmar also face brutal, politically motivated sexual violence. The military has deliberately targeted them with a campaign of rape and gang rape, often perpetrated by military officers themselves. As in Darfur, the use of rape as a military strategy in Myanmar is meant to traumatize entire communities, not just direct victims of attacks.

    In this context, the U.S.-drafted resolution would have been a well-timed and badly needed condemnation of politically motivated sex abuse. Although it would not have bound the U.N. to take action in either Sudan or Myanmar, it would at least have sent a pointed message to these governments about the legality of their activities.

    Despite its clear humanitarian justification, this declaration somehow managed to stir up enormous controversy. Led by Angola and South Africa, its opponents sought ð- and succeeded – to remove references to rape as a political or military tactic.

    South Africa’s Department of Foreign Affairs recently released a statement explaining their support for gutting the resolution. They claim foremost that it would have created two categories of rape, one committed by civilians and one by military personnel. This interpretation is not supported by the actual text, which recognizes that every rape is an “”offence (sic) against the dignity and integrity of the victim.”” The resolution simply points out that sexual violence is often perpetrated with a political goal in mind; it does not create a separate legal category for such rapes.

    Opponents offer other arguments, including the specious claim that the resolution weakens previous commitments condemning rape. In fact, the drafters spent a great deal of space explicitly reaffirming earlier international agreements. South Africa also argued that the text does “”not even address the assistance to the victims of rape.”” This is patently false. It explicitly endorses health care and humanitarian assistance for victims of sexual abuse.

    Perhaps most perniciously, South Africa has accused the U.S. of politicizing rape with this resolution. This argument completely misses the point. Rape has already been politicized by the corrupt, violent governments that use it to intimidate and oppress their citizens. The fundamental purpose of the resolution was to condemn this politicization of sexual violence.

    The real motive behind South African opposition probably has little to do with these flimsy objections, and more to do with the fact that South Africa boasts some of the world’s highest rates of rape. Although evidence does not suggest that South Africa sanctions sexual violence, the government may have feared that its lack of action against the brutality within its borders would make it a target of the resolution.

    Instead of shedding light on a unique pattern of systematic human rights abuse, the resolution’s opponents watered it down to a pointless, redundant declaration that rape is bad. This is not the resolution the world needed. The U.N. has already produced multiple resolutions, declarations, conventions, reports and commissions condemning sexual violence against women.

    It’s probably a good thing that the statesmen of the world can at least bring themselves to agree that rape is evil. There is no legitimate reason, however, why the resolution should not have been passed in its original form. The inability of the U.N. to even offer a condemnation of politicized rape, let alone actual interventions, is a depressing reflection of the institution’s moral stature. Long criticized for dealing in resolutions but seldom in action, the U.N. has now failed to even pay lip service to one of its most important moral obligations.

    Lauren Myers is a sophomore majoring in math and microbiology. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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