UN Security Council Adopts Resolution 1820 to End Sexual Violence in Conflict
Monday, June 23, 2008 12:36 PM

Security Council Demands Immediate & Complete Halt to Acts of Sexual Violence against Civilians in Conflict Zones, Unanimously Adopting Resolution 1820 (2008)

Press Release

Caps Day-Long Ministerial-Level Debate on “Women, Peace and Security”, Calls on Secretary-General to Report on Text’s Implementation by 30 June 2009

The Security Council today demanded the “immediate and complete cessation by all parties to armed conflict of all acts of sexual violence against civilians,” expressing its deep concern that, despite repeated condemnation, violence and sexual abuse of women and children trapped in war zones was not only continuing, but, in some cases, had become so widespread and systematic as to “reach appalling levels of brutality”.

Capping a day-long ministerial-level meeting on “women, peace and security”, the 15-member Council unanimously adopted resolution 1820 (2008), which noted that “rape and other forms of sexual violence can constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity or a constitutive act with respect to genocide”.  It also affirmed the Council’s intention, when establishing and renewing State-specific sanction regimes, to consider imposing “targeted and graduated” measures against warring factions who committed rape and other forms of violence against women and girls.

The resolution also noted that women and girls are particularly targeted by the use of sexual violence, including in some cases as “a tactic of war to humiliate, dominate, instil fear in, disperse and/or forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic group”.  Stressing that such violence could significantly exacerbate conflicts and impede peace processes, the text affirmed the Council’s readiness to, where necessary, adopt steps to address systematic sexual violence deliberately targeting civilians, or as a part of a widespread campaign against civilian populations.

Further to the text, the Council demanded that all parties to armed conflict take immediate and appropriate measures to protect civilians, including by, among others, enforcing appropriate military disciplinary measures and upholding the principle of command responsibility; training troops on the categorical prohibition of all forms of sexual violence against civilians; debunking myths that fuel sexual violence; and vetting armed and security forces to take into account past sexual violence.

The text made several key requests of the Secretary-General, including that he submit by 30 June 2009 a report on implementation of the resolution that would include, among other things, information on conflict situations in which sexual violence was widely or systematically employed against civilians; and proposals aimed at minimizing the susceptibility of women and girls to such violence.  It also requested him to develop effective guidelines and strategies to enhance the ability of relevant United Nations peacekeeping operations to protect civilians, including women and girls, from all forms of sexual violence.

Chairing the debate on behalf of the United States, which holds the Security Council presidency for the month, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice noted that there had long been dispute about whether sexual violence against women in conflict was an issue the Council was authorized to address.  “I am proud that, today, we respond to that lingering question with a resounding ‘yes!’,” she said, adding that the world body was acknowledging that such violence was indeed a security concern.  “We affirm that sexual violence profoundly affects not only the health and safety of women, but the economic and social stability of their nations,” she said.

In his opening remarks to the meeting, which came eight years after the Council had adopted its landmark resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that an increasing and alarming number of women and girls were falling victim to sexual violence in conflict and that the problem had reached unspeakable and pandemic proportions in some societies attempting to recover from it.  “But we can and must push back.”  He announced plans to shortly appoint a Messenger of Peace tasked entirely with advocacy for ending violence against women.  He also urged the Council to adopt resolutions with strong language on sexual and gender-based violence, so that “the UN can respond more forcefully”.

“We must do far more to involve women in conflict prevention, peace negotiations and recovery after the guns fall silent,” he said, stressing that he needed Member States to come forward with more women candidates.  Referring to the all-female Indian civil police unit in the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) as a possible model, he said that, when Member States send qualified personnel, the United Nations could demonstrate the central role of women in restoring stability to war-ravaged countries.

On the issue of Untied Nations operations, the Secretary-General said: “Let me be clear; the United Nations and I personally are profoundly committed to a zero-tolerance policy against sexual exploitation or abuse by our own personnel.”  By creating a culture that punished violence and elevated women to their rightful role, “we can lay the foundation for lasting stability, where women are not victims of violence, but agents of peace”, he added.

Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro also addressed the meeting, which featured the participation of nearly 60 speakers, saying that sexual violence had not only grave physical and psychological health consequences for its victims, but also direct social consequences for communities and entire societies.  “Impunity for sexual violence committed during conflict perpetuates a tolerance of abuse against women and girls and leaves a damaging legacy by hindering national reconciliation,” she said.

Ms. Migiro added that tackling this complex problem on all fronts would require the combined effort of all, including Governments, the United Nations system, as well as civil society and non-governmental organizations.  She called women “one of our greatest assets” in the fight against such horrific crimes.  “If we promote the full and equal participation of women in the security sector, we can ensure that security services effectively identify and respond to their needs,” she added.

Echoing that sentiment, General Assembly President Srgjan Kerim said that women must be assured equal and full participation in conflict resolution and peacebuilding processes, and represented in the structures and institutions realized from any peace dividend to ensure that it lasted.

He also noted that, while both the Assembly and the Council had adopted groundbreaking resolutions on the issue, stronger and more coordinated efforts were needed to address sexual violence against women.  “Clearly, we all have to do more to prevent human rights violations against women and girls in situations of armed conflict, do more to punish the perpetrators and end the impunity of war crimes violators,” he said.

Among the other high-level speakers today, Olubanke King-Akerele, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Liberia, said the issue before the Council was of the utmost seriousness, and the powerful 15-member body and the wider international community must step up efforts to address that grave abuse of dignity and human rights.  Much remained to be done to ensure broad implementation of resolution 1325 (2000), which needed accountability, measurement and benchmarks.  And, it needed focal points within the United Nations system to follow-up on its implementation at national levels.  To address those shortcomings, she suggested mechanisms similar to those included in Security Council resolutions on “children and armed conflict”.

Retired Major General Patrick Cammart, Former Division Commander of the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), said that the current climate of impunity in most post-conflict contexts allowed the many forms of violence, including sexual violence, to flourish.  Further, the political will to end the vicious cycle of impunity did not exist.  That being the case, impunity remained a serious impediment for the prevention of sexual violence.  “It has probably become more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in an armed conflict,” he said.

“You are the UN, you play an important role to ensure that the UN and the international community continue to intensify actions to end violence against women and girls,” he said, adding that everyone understood how many important issues were before the Council at any given moment, each needing great care and attention.  But, women and girls were suffering.  “You have the responsibility to protect them and to take real and effective measures to put an end to this,” he said.

Also participating in the debate were the Vice-Prime Minister of Croatia, and the Foreign Ministers of South Africa and Burkina Faso.

They were joined by senior ministers and Government officials from the United Kingdom, Belgium, France, Italy, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Also speaking were the representatives of China, Libya, Viet Nam, Costa Rica, Indonesia, Panama, Russian Federation, Japan (in his capacity and as Chairperson of the Peacebuilding Commission), Liechtenstein, Ghana, Slovenia (on behalf of the European Union), Australia, Spain, New Zealand, Bangladesh, Netherlands, Israel, Iceland (also on behalf of Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden), Nigeria, Brazil, Switzerland, Ireland, Canada, Ecuador, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Austria, Argentina, Colombia, United Republic of Tanzania, Germany, Kazakhstan, Iraq, Rwanda, Philippines, Afghanistan, El Salvador, Tonga (on behalf of the Pacific Small Island Developing States), Bosnia and Herzegovina, Myanmar, Tunisia, Benin, Mauritania and San Marino.

The Commissioner for Peace and Security of the African Union also addressed the debate.

The meeting began at 10:10 a.m. and was suspended at 1:15 p.m.  The Council reconvened at 3:10 p.m. and ended its meeting at 6:55 p.m.

For the full press report, click here.

Published in: "UN Security Council Adopts Resolution 1820 to End Sexual Violence in Conflict," Press Release, United Nations, 19 June 2008.