UNITED NATIONS (AFP) — The UN Security Council on Thursday demanded an end to persistent sexual violence during armed conflict, calling it a war crime and a component of genocide.
Approved by all 15 members, Council Resolution 1820 "demands the immediate and complete cessation by all parties to armed conflict of all acts of sexual violence against civilians with immediate effect."
It also urged that "all parties to armed conflict immediately take appropriate measures to protect civilians, including women and girls, from all forms of sexual violence."
Chaired by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the council said "rape and other forms of sexual violence can constitute a war crime, a crime against humanity, or a constitutive act with respect to genocide."
It indirectly threatened suspected war-time rapists with prosecution before The Hague-based International Criminal Court.
The resolution was quickly welcomed by Human Rights Watch.
"The UN Security Council's new resolution on sexual violence is a historic achievement for a body that has all too often ignored the plight of women and girls in conflict," the rights group said in a statement.
"Human Rights Watch applauds the council for setting out in the resolution a clear path to systematic information-gathering on sexual violence."
Before the vote, in the day-long debate called by the United States, this month's council chairman, Rice spoke strongly against war-time rape.
"Rape is a crime that can never be condoned. Yet women and girls in conflict situations around the world have been subjected to widespread and deliberate acts of sexual violence," she said.
"Today's resolution establishes a mechanism for bringing those atrocities to light," the US chief diplomat said.
She stressed the resolution directs the UN secretary general to prepare an action plan for collecting data on the use of sexual violence in armed conflict and then reporting that information to the council.
Rice cited the example of Myanmar where she said "soldiers have regularly raped women and girls even as young as eight years old.
"What is tragic also in that country is that instead of being allowed to take the office as the elected leader of Burma's government, (opposition leader) Aung San Suu Kyi is marking her (63rd) birthday this very day under house arrest," the US chief diplomat said.
"We cannot forget as we examine this issue other women activists who struggle for freedom under violent environments," she added.
Rice also referred to widespread acts of sexual violence in countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Sudan.
The US diplomat highlighted acts of sexual violence perpetrated by UN peacekeepers in several countries around the world.
"As an international community we have a special responsibility to punish perpetrators of sexual violence who are representatives of international organizations," she noted.
In his remarks, UN chief Ban Ki-moon stressed the world body was "profoundly committed" to its zero-tolerance policy against sexual exploitation or abuse by our own personnel."
"Violence against women has reached unspeakable and pandemic proportions in some societies attempting to recover from conflict," he said.
"We have to view this problem in the broader context of women's empowerment ... We must do far more to involve women in conflict prevention, peace negotiations and recovery after the guns fall silent."
France's secretary of state for human rights Rama Yade said those responsible for sexual violence amid armed conflict should be hunted down and brought to trial even before the ICC.
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