That the US successfully imposed itself in the wording of a document that addresses women’s rights the world over and managed to force a regressive idea onto a globally applicable document is alarming. It suggests a tendency that is likely only to continue: one that is progressively eliminating the rights of women, one phrase at a time.
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By Kirthi Jayakumar
The UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2467 after a month of deliberations and negotiations. The resolution aims to combat sexual violence in conflict and offer legal and other support to survivors. However, the journey of the Resolution from what it was to its current form involved many difficult negotiations and arguments, particularly between the United States and other Security Council members.
In its hardline stance against particular provisions and word choices in the Resolution, the United States has reasserted the poor view it has taken on women’s rights under the Trump regime. Not only has the government sought to assert control over women’s bodies through its national policies, but through this Resolution it has also sought to do so with respect to women the world over.
Drawing from prior texts such as Resolutions 1325, 1820, and 2106, the text of 2467 aims at augmenting legal redress against sexual violence in conflict, by focusing specifically on survivor needs, enabling access to justice, and expanding on the provision of reparations. However, the resolution explicitly does not mention the phrase “sexual and reproductive health” even once.
Although prior resolutions have addressed sexual and reproductive health and have explicitly mentioned the phrase, it was removed from the document altogether at the insistence of the US delegation. The negotiations – led by a German diplomat, Andreas Glossner – met with great opposition from the US delegation; replete with a threat of a veto if the resolution referred to women’s rights “that way.” Be that as it may, the resolution continues to affirm earlier resolutions, invariably giving a fillip to resolutions like 2106, which refer to women’s rights “that way.”
During the negotiations, several members of the Security Council asserted themselves against US pressure to weaken global commitments to women in conflict zones. Between threatening to abandon the text to putting pressure on Germany to call the US out for its demands, ultimately, a watered-down version of the resolution emerged so as not to throw the very resolution out altogether. By the end of it, 12 countries including the US voted yes, and Russia and China abstained.
The US simply refused to accept proposals that would aim at establishing a formal mechanism in the UN Security Council to track sexual violence in conflict. It cited the burden of “significant new work” for the members of the Security Council as a basis for its rejection – an idea that China and Russia also shared in equal measure. Aside from this, China and Russia came up with resolutions of their own that focused on prevention – which never went to vote. The US also came down heavily on making references to the International Criminal Court. This is arguably in endorsement of the US view against the court itself, which it declared last year was “dead” to it. The US also came down on the mention of “comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and safe termination of pregnancy” and “comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care such as access to emergency contraception, safe termination of pregnancy and HIV prevention and treatment.” The Dominican Republic delegation stood up to the US stoutly, vehemently asserting that such rights were non-negotiable, and that an attempt to refute this access is nothing shy of cruel, degrading, and inhuman treatment.
A worrisome trend
It is unfathomable how a resolution striving to address sexual violence in conflict could function without a mention of the key phrase of “sexual and reproductive health rights.” Rape and sexual violence are fundamentally carried out in conflict as part of key strategic plans that cost next to nothing to implement. They are aimed at targeting the enemy enough to break their social order and this happens primarily because of the direct effect of such heinous violence on the sexual and reproductive health of women.
Violent and armed conflict present severely dangerous consequences for all gender identities, men included – who are also vulnerable to sexual violence. However, given the prevailing social dynamics of patriarchy and gender-based discrimination, the prevalence of violent conflict only augments an atmosphere of impunity that virulently encourages and abets the commission of sexual violence. This is what makes rape an “effective” weapon of war. Interpretations of the extant legal regime by international courts and tribunals have validated the truth that rape and sexual violence are forms of war crimes, torture, and can even be contributory factors in implementing genocide campaigns.
What is particularly disconcerting is the sheer sense of the US being unmoved by the consequences of their choices. In the run up to the deliberations, there were guest speakers who presented graphic accounts of sexual violence in conflict, including the likes of Dr. Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad, aside from Amal Clooney. Even as the US delegation casually suggested that they put survivors at the heart of their work, their limiting, patriarchal stance was all they had to offer.
That the US successfully imposed itself in the wording of a document that addresses women’s rights the world over and managed to force a regressive idea onto a globally applicable document is alarming. It suggests a tendency that is likely only to continue: one that is progressively eliminating the rights of women, one phrase at a time. That other nations could do nothing more than to give in after a point is representative of the structural violence inherent in the UN system as it stands: the threat of a veto was really all that stood between the 15-member body and dropping the resolution altogether.
Kirthi Jayakumar is a legal researcher and lawyer. Her interest and experience is in peace, conflict, international law and gender issues, focusing on Afghanistan, the Middle East, DR Congo and South-Asia.
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of TransConflict.