Time to Put an End to Sexual Violence

In his op-ed “The Weapon of Rape” (NYT 6/15/08), Nicholas Kristof justly described sexual atrocities against women in countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Darfur as “terrorism.”This strong language is overdue in a context where the use of rape for political gain and territorial expansion has continued unabated for 10 years in both these countries with almost no reaction from world leaders, especially in the case of DRC. Read more.

Kristof uses this week’s UN Security Council session on sexual violence, which will be led by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, as the hook to remind the world of its negligence when it comes to women’s human rights. The world has been silent in spite of the UN’s own condemning 2001 report on the exploitation of mineral resources as a driving force of the war in eastern Congo – the most violent since World War II and responsible for almost 5 million deaths. The world remained silent following Human Rights Watch’s 2002 detailed documentation of sexual violence as a regular feature of the conflict. 2007 and 2008 have finally seen the emergence of interest in the rights of violated African women – we’ve seen more media reports, more donor interest, more visits to the region by international NGOs. The Congolese activists and NGOs that have been ardently calling on the world to pay attention for the past decade must ask themselves why it took so long. These groups raised awareness about the overflow of weapons in Congo, Burundi, and Rwanda, which made it easy for armed groups to terrorize communities, making farming a dangerous endeavor for women who must grow their food, and subjecting women and girls to unspeakable acts of violence and humiliation. These groups also insisted that violence against women must be considered as crimes against humanity, and were critical to the passage of UN Resolution 1325 and the recognition of rape as a crime against humanity by the International Criminal Court. These courageous activists insisted that these crimes not be relegated to “internal matters” of sovereign states – immune from scrutiny by world leaders and international human rights procedures. The same groups are helping victims of rape access medical treatment and support systems to become economically independent.  In keeping with its mission and commitment to listening to women's voices on the ground, the Global Fund for Women has been proud to be able to provide both financial support and to stand in moral solidarity with some of these remarkable activists as they carry out their important work.

Is it a coincidence that as the end of the Bush administration approaches, Condoleeza Rice, the Secretary of State, a woman, leads the debate on sexual violence? Is it a coincidence that it took this long for this administration to prioritize or think about tens of thousands of women being traumatized as they were brutally raped, and, adding insult to injury, often in the presence of their families and neighbors? Over 70 Congolese women’s rights organizations sent a letter to the UN Security Council this week appealing that significant, meaningful steps be taken to end sexual violence. The world has repeatedly stated “never again” when it comes to brutal violence, genocide, and mass atrocities. However, when it comes to women's bodies being used as weapons of war, the pattern has continued, from Liberia, to Bosnia, Serbia, Rwanda, DRC, and Darfur – making “never again” seem like a farce rather than a forceful commitment of the international community. We don’t know where the next atrocities will take place, but we hope that the response of the world community will be much swifter and unequivocal so that thousands of women don’t again sacrifice their dignity and well-being for the sake of politics and greed.

Read Nick Kristof's article:


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