On 19 June 2008, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 1820, which demands an end to sexual violence in situations of armed conflict. As the council further asserted that rape can constitute a war crime, a crime against humanity, or even genocide, it recommended that sexual violence be considered an exception in amnesty provisions. It stressed that, “that sexual violence, when used or commissioned as a tactic of war in order to deliberately target civilians or as a part of a widespread or systematic attack against civilian populations, can significantly exacerbate situations of armed conflict and may impede the restoration of international peace and security.”
The NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security earlier made the following minimum recommendations to the Council: - Require that the Secretary-General systematically include comprehensive information on acts of sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls in all of his reports on conflict-affected situations and to report to the Security Council on ways to improve the level and quality of such reporting. - Require the Secretary-General to report to the Security Council on ways to improve the UN’s response, in particular at the highest levels, including at the Security Council, to stop sexual and gender-based violence in conflict-affected situations. - Require that women’s groups at the local level actively participate in the design and implementation of strategies and programmes to meet their security needs and concerns; and for greater participation of women in peacekeeping and civilian functions in particular to monitor and curb incidents of sexual violence. - Demand an end to impunity for perpetrators of sexual and gender-based violence.
The measure has been welcomed by civil society, especially women's human rights groups. One such group is the Women League of Burma (WLB) which brought to light the atrocities of the current ruling junta against women. As widely documented, the State Peace and Development Council has developed a system of raping women, particularly those belonging to ethnic groups. WLB urged that SPDC head Gen. Than Shwe be held accountable under UNSCR 1820, brought before the International Criminal Court. WLB states, “When the State itself is the abuser of human rights and the perpetrator of rape and other forms of gender-based violence, we can only rely on international laws and criminal courts to deal with such heinous crimes and protect the women of Burma.”
In 2002, the Shan Herald Agency News and the Shan Women's Action Network published the report, License to Rape which documents 173 incidents of rape and other forms of sexual violence, involving 625 girls and women in the Shan State from 1996-2001. Eighty-three percent of these incidents were committed by officers in front of their command. These incidents were usually accompanied by beating, mutilation and suffocation. Twenty-five percent resulted to death. Since the respondents were mostly girls and women who have managed to cross the Thai-Burma border, the number of rape cases is expected to be far higher. These patterns were also found in the research undertaken by the Karen Women's Organisation. Published in 2005, Shattering Silences documents of the atrocities of the Burmese army against Karen women.
Last year, the Women's League of Chinland released a prelimary report on sexual abuses committed by government troops in the Chin State, whose population generally adhere to the Christian tradition. Aside from being weapons of war, women's bodies have also been used as a tool for genocide. In an effort to further 'Burmanisation', the SPDC supports Burmese soldiers raping Chin women. Burmese soldiers are promised 100,000 kyat should they marry an educated Chin woman.” Marriage to a perpetrator is often an option for Chin survivors who have a high regard for virginity. Just a week before the adoption of UNSCR 1820, an SPDC officer and lawyer were accused of raping Chin girls, aged 13 and 14 in Thangtlang, Chin State. Rape and other forms of sexual abuse have also been used as a form of torture for women political prisoners.
The UN is not spared from the resolution. Aside from tasking UN missions to provide responsive assistance to survivors of sexual abuse in situations of armed conflict, UNSCR 1820 demands accountability from UN in cases where its personnel are involved. UNSCR 1820 also stresses the points of UNSCR 1325 on the protection of women and children in conflict zones.
The UN came under fire after Save the Children released the report, No One to Turn To, which detailed the sexual abuses against children committed by aid workers and peacekeepers in Southern Sudan, Cote d'Ivoire and Haiti. These sexual abuses range from verbal sexual abuse to trading sex for food to human trafficking.
Sharon Bhagwan Rolls of FemLINK Pacific, a member of the regional media network on UNSCR 1325 debates asserts, “the UN system must stand by its commitment within UNSCR1325 and therefore ensure that any UN peacekeeper involved in sexual abuse/exploitation must be prosecuted by international tribunal; additionally civilian international staff involved in sexual abuse/exploitation must also be prosecuted.”
While many lauded the adoption of UNSCR 1820, many are also vigilant on the resolution's implementation. Marianne Mollmann of Human Rights Watch, one of the more active campaigners on the resolution, along with the International Women's Tribune Centre, observes, “any UN resolution is only as good as its follow-up. In fact, it is possible that the Security Council's until now tepid attention to sexual violence in conflict-affected situations is a symptom of a more onerous problem: a deep-seated reluctance to address rape at all, mirroring the failure of national governments to prosecute and address violence against women more generally.”
Burmese Women's Union and Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. (nd). Women Political Prisoners in Burma. URL: http://www.aappb.org/Women%20Political%20Prisoners%20in%20Burma.pdf
Csaky, Corinna. (2008). No One to Turn To: The under-reporting of child sexual exploitation and abuse by aid workers and peacekeepers. London: Save the Children.
Human Rights Watch. (2008 June 19). “UN: Finally, a Step Toward Confronting Rape in War.” URL: http://www.hrw.org/english/docs/2008/06/19/global19161.htm
International Women's Tribune Centre. (2008 June 18). Women's Global Net No. 335 (online newsletter).
Mollman, Marianne. (2007 June 25). “Rape in War: Will the United Nations Walk Its Talk?” URL: http://www.hrw.org/english/docs/2008/06/25/global19201.htm
NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security. (2008 June 17). “Open Letter to Ambassadors on Sexual Violence in Situations of Armed Conflict.” URL: http://www.womenpeacesecurity.org/
Pacific Regional Media Network on UNSCR 1325. (2008 June 13). Statement on the UN Security Council Meeting on June 19, 2008 (e-mail correspondence).
ReliefWeb. (2007 March 27). “Burmese junta sanctions rape of Chin women: report.” URL: http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/rwb.nsf/db900sid/SNAO-6ZPTFH?OpenDocument
Shan Herald Agency for News and Shan Women's Action Network.(May 2002). License to Rape. URL: http://www.shanland.org/resources/bookspub/humanrights/LtoR/executive_summary.htm
Women's League of Burma. (2008 June 24). “WLB calls for General Than Shwe to be charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity under new UNSC resolution.” URL: http://www.womenofburma.org/
Women's League of Chinland. (2007). “Hidden Crimes Against Chin Women: A Preliminary Report: A Preliminary Report”URL: http://www.chinwomen.org/pages/publications.php