UN adopts resolution against sexual violence in conflicts; Italy had hoped for more ambitious text

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NEW YORK, APRIL 23 – A U.S. threat to veto U.N. Security Council action on sexual violence in conflict was averted on Tuesday after a long-agreed phrase on “reproductive health” was removed because President Donald Trump’s administration saw it as code for abortion.

Amal Clooney

A German-drafted resolution was adopted with 13 votes in favor and two ascension (Russia and China) after the reference was cut referring to the need for U.N. bodies and donors to give timely “sexual and reproductive health” assistance to survivors of sexual violence in conflict. In theory, the German Presidency who had called for the meeting had a strong hand, with star briefers (Amal Clooney, and two Nobel Prizes) and an op-ed backing the resolution by Angelina Jolie. “It is intolerable and incomprehensible that the Security Council is incapable of acknowledging that women and girls who suffered from sexual violence in conflict – and who obviously didn’t choose to become pregnant – should have the right to terminate their pregnancy,” a disappointed French Ambassador Francois Delattre told the 15-member body after the vote. The text adopted on Tuesday simply reaffirms the council’s commitment to the 2009 and 2013 resolutions. A reference to the work of the International Criminal Court in fighting the most serious crimes against women and girls was also watered-down to win over Washington, which is not a member of the institution.

The meeting chaired by the German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas marked the 10th anniversary of the adoption of resolution 1888, which created the mandate of the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict. World-renowned human rights lawyer, Amal Clooney, recounted some of the “important milestones” she had reached advocating on behalf of Yazadi women and girls from northern Iraq, thousands of whom were sold into sexual slavery by extremist group ISIL.

Italy welcomed today’s Open Debate and saw the resolution a further step in countering the scourge of Sexual Violence in Conflict, although, like other Member States, “we regret that it was not possible to agree on a more comprehensive and ambitious text”, the Italian Deputy Permanent Representative Stefano Stefanile said after the vote of the Council. “The picture emerging from the 2019 Secretary General’s Report is, unfortunately, still gloomy: sexual-related crimes continue to be used as part of a global war strategy by State and non-State actors, and States continue to face setbacks when exercising their responsibility to protect their own nationals. Notwithstanding some progress in some countries, much remains to be done in ensuring accountability as well as compliance with Security Council resolutions on a wider scale. In light of this background, Italy is ready to support the horizontal recommendations set forth by the Secretary General.
In particular, we support the inclusion of sexual violence as an automatic and independent designation criterion in all relevant sanction regimes”, said Stefanile.

Italy also considers that the work of the Security Council should benefit from a more systematic involvement of the International Criminal Court, with the Office of the ICC Prosecutor receiving the necessary resources to conduct swift investigations. When national or international courts are unable to act, the Security Council should create international fact-finding mechanisms in order to conduct gender-sensitive investigations, and ensure the collection and preservation of evidence.

As part of its commitment to preventing and responding to gender-based violence against women in emergencies and situations of conflicts, Italy joined the “Call to Action on Protection from Gender-Based Violence in Emergencies”, launched in 2013. “Tackling the root causes of violence is indeed key, as the prevention of systematic sexual violence begins in times of peace, when national laws should be made sufficiently robust to prevent permissive attitudes in wartime. We need a paradigm shift: the dismantlement of those rules, including the patriarchal ones, that are at the base of violence, and the affirmation of a full culture of gender equality, which can ensure complete and effective participation of women and girls in the decision-making process. Our action should be guided by a comprehensive and multidisciplinary approach, with the aim to ban any form of gender violence, including harmful practices”, said the Italian Ambassador, adding that training remains an essential component of our efforts, and should encompass a wide range of actors: youth, leaders, military and police units and civilian personnel. Establishing a stronger women presence in UN missions should also be a priority, in order to facilitate the dialogue with local populations and encourage victims to speak out and to enhance the mandate’s delivery, particularly with regard to the protection of civilians.

At the same time, it is fundamental to assist Countries in situations of conflict in reforming their judicial systems and strengthening the rule of law and their accountability mechanisms. Stefanile recalled that Italy will host in Rome, at the end of May, the preparatory Conference for the review of SDG 16, while the Italian commitment to provide appropriate reintegration support for the victims of SEA is well-documented, as Italy is the largest contributor to the UN Trust Fund on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse and supports other initiatives in this sector. (@OnuItalia)