UN’s New Sexual Violence Declaration – A Step Forward? Maybe Not.

Image Courtesy: smh.com.au

Image Courtesy: smh.com.au

With the Syrian conflict raging, the world awaits the UN General Assembly Meeting in New York next week. What’s on their agenda? A new declaration to end sexual violence.

In a joint report, Britain’s Foreign Secretary, William Hague and Special Envoy of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Angelina Jolie claim that a declaration of commitment to end sexual violence in conflict will be presented to the United Nations on September 24th.

Image Courtesy: news.uk.msn.com

Image Courtesy: news.uk.msn.com

According to the report, the Declaration will give every country in the world an opportunity to show where it stands on this issue. It’s main components include a pledge not to allow amnesties for sexual violence in peace agreements, so that the perpetrators of these crimes can be held accountable, a new International Protocol by the middle of 2014 to help ensure that evidence produced can stand up in court and more survivors can see justice, and to place the safety and dignity of victims at the heart of investigations into rape and other sexual crimes in conflict zones. Lastly, its signatories will promise to put protection from sexual violence at the forefront of all their conflict and humanitarian work, and to help strengthen the capacity of countries most at risk of this violence.

For the first time, the countries endorsing this declaration will agree that sexual violence is indeed a war crime and is also in complete violation of the Geneva Conventions and their first protocol, established in 1977 which relates to the protection of victims in international armed conflicts.

In fact, in June 2013, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, highlighted the importance of collective action against crimes of sexual violence.

“Preventing sexual violence in conflict is our joint responsibility.  It must be part of our work in many areas, from peacekeeping and political missions, to mediation, ceasefire agreements, security-sector reform, justice-sector reform and the delivery of humanitarian assistance,” he said.

“Those who hold power and influence have a special duty to step forward and be part of a global coalition of champions determined to break this evil,” he added.

Now let me pose a question, how many of you think this plan will actually be effective?

Firstly, the inclusion of a pledge to stop amnesties for sexual violence in peace agreements is almost laughable. A pledge by definition means, a solemn promise or undertaking. It is not a signed contract, it is basically a verbal commitment to something. How can victims of sexual violence place their faith in a mechanism that lacks any basic foundation? This declaration is basing its success on the good faith of the member states of the UN. What it fails to recognize, and naively at that, is that nation states act in terms of their own vital national interests. Good faith is rarely a consideration.

Secondly, the fact that this declaration like all UN-proposed declarations are non-binding, allows countries where rape is rampant to still escape prosecution. If they simply do not ratify the declaration, isn’t amnesty in some sense granted to them anyway? How can the UN esure enforcement? How can the UN ensure that countries comply with the proposed declaration? These are questions that need to be answered.

I do not discredit the nobility involved in putting forth such a declaration in the first place. However, states need to take responsibility first. States need to be made to comply with international law. Rules do not matter if states are always breaking them.

What do you guys think? Is this declaration a step forward? How can the UN ensure that states comply with this newly proposed declaration? What else needs to be done?

We have a voice, lets use it.

Update: 113 Countries Sign Pledge Against Sexual Violence

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4 thoughts on “UN’s New Sexual Violence Declaration – A Step Forward? Maybe Not.

  1. Really interesting take, like that that as much you credit UN’s nobility with regards to this issue but more has to be done with its ability to enforce.

  2. I think it has some importance in that it’s at least a formal acknowledgement that sexual crimes are an act of war and that there will be no amnesty. You’re right in the sense that there are no enforcement mechanisms. But let’s get the ideas out there. Let’s set a goal and then work towards it. It’s any day better than not having any goal at all!

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