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UN: Security Council Labels Sexual Violence A 'Tactic Of War'

Rice told the Security Council that "organized and systematic" rape is common in conflicts around the world (AFP) The UN Security Council has approved a resolution that demands warring governments and factions act to halt violence against women, calling rape a war crime and a component of genocide.

The move came at the end of a special session on sexual violence led by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Sexual violence in war is nothing new. Accounts of women being raped by conquering armies as "spoils of war" go back centuries. But the resolution says rape is not just a by-product of war, but a military tactic.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Security Council that violence against women had reached "unspeakable and pandemic proportions" in some places recovering from conflict.

Threat To Stability

And U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who chaired part of the session, said the world had now recognized that such violence was a threat to nations' security.

"This world body now acknowledges that sexual violence in conflict zones is indeed a security concern," Rice said. "We affirm that sexual violence profoundly affects not only the health and safety of women but the economic and social stability of their nations."

The resolution also urges all parties involved in armed conflict to take immediate action to protect civilians. It passed unanimously, despite resistance from some council members -- including Russia -- that initially did not want to hold the session.

The resolution was welcomed as a "historic achievement" by Human Rights Watch, which said the world body had all too often ignored the problem.

In recent times, the Balkan wars of the 1990s alerted the world to the use of rape as a weapon of conflict.

"Even on Croatian territory, in the heart of Europe, rape was used as a method of intimidation and terror during the aggression to which Croatia was exposed at the beginning of the 1990s," said Croatia's Deputy Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor. "Bosnia-Herzegovina, which has been tormented by the same source of aggression, suffered the use of rape and sexual violence as instruments of ethnic cleansing."

'Tool Of War'

These days, the problem is worst in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Major General Patrick Cammaert told the meeting he witnessed the impact of rape as a UN peacekeeping commander in eastern Congo.

He described such violence as a "particularly potent tool of war," as it dehumanizes its victims.

"It has probably become more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in an armed conflict," he said.

It's not just warring factions that are accused of rape. UN peacekeepers themselves have been accused of sexual offenses in several countries. The resolution calls for more vigilance in stopping and preventing such abuses.

Its practical impact, however, remains unclear. Ban is expected to report back on its implementation in a year.

with agency reports