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France blasts US for weakened UN resolution on sexual violence in conflicts

Drew Angerer, AFP | Human rights lawyer Amal Clooney and Nobel laureate Nadia Murad at UN headquarters ahead of an April 23, 2019 vote on sexual violence in conflicts.

The UN Security Council on Tuesday approved a watered-down resolution on sexual violence in conflicts, eliminating language on providing survivors "sexual and reproductive health care" to get US support in a move criticised by France.

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Tuesday's vote on the German-drafted resolution was 13-0, with Russia and China, which had submitted a rival draft, abstaining.

Both Russia and China said they opposed sexual violence in conflicts, but denounced "lax interpretations" in the text and a "manipulated" struggle to create new UN structures and "override" mandates already approved.

France vehemently criticised the US for threatening to use its veto over a reference in the text to reproductive rights, seen by Washington as an encouragement of abortion.

"It is intolerable and incomprehensible that the Security Council is incapable of acknowledging that women and girls who suffered from sexual violence in conflict -- and who obviously didn't choose to become pregnant -- should have the right to
terminate their pregnancy," French UN Ambassador Francois Delattre told the 15-member body after the vote.

"We deplore that the veto threats were brandished by permanent members of the council to challenge 25 years of gains in favour of women's rights in situations of armed conflict," he said.

The resolution expresses the council's deep concern at "the slow progress" in addressing and eliminating sexual violence in conflicts around the world. It says such acts often occur with impunity "and in some situations have become systematic and widespread, reaching appalling levels of brutality".

The language promoting sexual and reproductive health is long-agreed internationally, including in resolutions adopted by the Security Council in 2009 and 2013 and several resolutions adopted annually by the 193-member General Assembly.

The text adopted on Tuesday simply reaffirms the council's commitment to the 2009 and 2013 resolutions. A reference to the work of the International Criminal Court in fighting the most serious crimes against women and girls was also watered-down to win over Washington, which is not a member of the institution.

Nobel laureates decry failure to act

Nobel Peace Prize laureates Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege decried the international community's failure to act.

"Not a single person has been charged for sexual slavery," said Murad, speaking before the vote about the massacres of her Yazidi community by the Islamic State (IS) group in Iraq and Syria.

"The hopes of an entire generation have been destroyed," the Iraqi human rights activist added, speaking of the "collective failure" of the international community to intervene.

"We give speeches at the UN but no real measures have been taken (in terms of obtaining justice) and nothing has been done."

Mukwege, a Congolese doctor who like Murad was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018, asked: "What is the international community waiting for to give justice for the victims?"

He also called for the establishment of national and international courts to try the perpetrators of sexual violence in conflicts.

‘Epidemic of sexual violence,’ says Clooney

Amal Clooney, the star human rights lawyer who represents Murad and other Yazidi victims, also denounced the weak international response.

She accused the US and Russia of opposing a judicial system to hold the perpetrators of these crimes to account, as has been done for past horrors committed in Bosnia, Cambodia, Sierra Leone and Rwanda or at the Nuremberg trials.

"If we don't act now, it will be too late," Clooney said, pointing to the thousands of IS group militants currently being held. "I agree that we are facing an epidemic of sexual violence. And I believe that justice is the antidote."

'Americans have taken negotiations hostage'

The German text initially sought to establish a formal working group, set up a mechanism to help bring to justice those responsible and develop victims' protection by giving formal recognition to their sexual and reproductive rights.

China, Russia and the US opposed the mechanism, the working group was scrapped and Washington threatened a veto if the text spoke of reproductive rights.

A diplomat said the resolution had been "reduced so much that it's now inadequate and there isn't much left".

Another added: "The Americans have taken negotiations hostage based on their own ideology. It's scandalous."

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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