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