Towards the end of last month, the UN General Assembly passed what was touted as “a landmark declaration to stop rape in conflict.”
A record 113 countries – more than half of the UN member states in one sitting – agreed to support the Declaration. The countries expressed support for strengthened efforts to end rape in war.
The Declaration will be the sixth international resolve since the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 of 2000. The Resolution calls on Member States to increase the participation of women in the “prevention and resolution of conflicts” and in the “maintenance and promotion of peace and security.”
UNSCR 1325 also calls upon parties involved in armed conflict to abide by international laws that protect the rights of civilian women and girls and to incorporate policies and procedures that protect women from gender-based crimes such as rape and sexual assault.
Other UN Security Council Resolutions include 1820, 1888, 1889 and 1960 adopted in the years 2008, 2009 and 2010.
To set the pace for the for the above resolutions, the UN Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict was established in 2007, uniting the work of 13 UN entities.
The aim was to improve coordination and accountability, amplify programming and advocacy, and support national efforts to prevent sexual violence and respond effectively to the needs of survivors.
In 2008, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched UNiTE to End Violence against Women, a campaign to prevent and eliminate violence against women and girls in all parts of the world, in times of war and peace.
The campaign brings together a host of UN agencies and joins forces with individuals, civil society and governments to put an end to violence against women in all its forms.
The subsequent UN Resolutions form the framework. UNSCR 1820 (2008) calls for an end to the use of acts of sexual violence against women and girls as a tactic of war and an end to impunity of the perpetrators.
It requests the UN to provide protection to women and girls in UN-led security endeavours, including refugee camps, and to invite the participation of women in all aspects of the peace process.
UNSCR 1888 (2009) details measures to further protect women and children from sexual violence in conflict situations, asking the Secretary-General to appoint a special representative to lead and coordinate the UN’s work on the issue, to send a team of experts to situations of particular concern, and to mandate peacekeepers to protect women and children.
UNSCR 1889 (2009) reaffirms resolution 1325, condemning continuing sexual violence against women in conflict situations, and urges UN Member States and civil society to consider the need for protection and empowerment of women and girls, including those associated with armed groups, in post-conflict programming.
UNSCR 1960 (2010) calls for the establishment of monitoring, analysis, and reporting arrangements specific to conflict-related sexual violence.
Last month’s Declaration affirms all of the above, urging strengthened regional efforts to prevent and respond to rape in war. It obliges the states to train the military and police in prevention and protection.
But the problem is very much local, even in peace time – in a city such as Kigali, Rwanda, a paragon of peace and urban security in the region.
I am noting this in the background of a workshop being held in the quieter and cooler Northern climes of Musanze to seek ways to prevent and reduce sexual violence and harassment in public places in Kigali.
This suggests that sexual violence and harassment in urban public places is something of an epidemic in the city, but certainly in most cities across the world.
Women and girls experience different forms of sexual violence and harassment in those spaces; the experience – or fear – of which can be stultifying and as debilitating as being physically shackled in chains to a post unable to move, thus removing women from their role in development. This column will certainly be revisiting the subject.
The author is a commentator on Rwanda and regional affairs