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Violence against women

17-04-2002 Statement

58th Annual Session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights – Agenda item 12 - 17 April 2002 – Statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross

Mr Chairman,

Women and girls, not or no longer taking active part in hostilities, should not be subjected to violence. Not by parties to an armed conflict. Not by those sent to protect or enforce peace agreements. Not by humanitarian organizations present to alleviate their suffering.

In October 2001 the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) published Women facing War , a study on the impact of armed conflict on women. This study included a review of international humanitarian law, human rights law and refugee law from the perspective of the needs of women in situations of armed conflict - including, amongst others, the need for physical safety from acts or threats of violence.

 Women facing War concludes that these three bodies of law afford adequate protection to women and girls in times of armed conflict whether they are civilians, combatants or captured combatants no longer taking part in hostilities. Women - like men - are afforded general protection but are also afforded additional protection with regard to their particular needs. If women are suffering in situations of armed conflict today it is not because of a lack of rules protecting them. No, women are suffering today because these rules are not implemented or respected.

Mr Chairman,

A very specific form of violence affecting women - although not exclusively - is sexual violence. This is an issue that is of particular concern to the ICRC and one highlighted in its recent study. Firstly, we must be categoric here - sexual violence in any form is unacceptable. It is unacceptable as a method of warfare, as a form of torture or as a means of “ethnic cleansing”. It is unacceptable as a means of dishonouring the opponent or as an act of aggression against a nation or community. Sexual violence is unacceptable and should not - should never - be seen as a “by-product” of war, a reward or as “payment” in return for protection or assistance.

The recent allegations of sexual abuse by humanitarian workers in West Africa of women and children dependent on humanitarian assistance is shocking. The ICRC study Women facing War already highlighted the risk for beneficiaries of abuse or exploitation in exchange for food or other goods. The study recommends that female staff should be included throughout all stages of assistance programmes to try to minimize the risks of such abuse and exploitation and that women beneficiaries themselves should be involved in the planning, implementation and evaluation of the aid programmes carried out in their favour. The ICRC has, and will continue to try to ensure that such controls are included in its assistance programmes.

The ICRC also believes that much more should be done in relation to sexual violence committed by parties to armed conflict. Sexual violence is not inevitable - it is prohibited by international humanitarian law. Prohibitions of rape and other forms of sexual violence must be included in national law, in military codes and in the training manuals of arms bearers. Efforts should be made to improve and increase the promotion of the rules protecting women and girls and, in particular, the prohibition of sexual violence at all times. Under international humanitarian law States have the duty to respect and ensure respect for this law and, should crimes occur, to bring the perpetrators to justice. Sexual violence is preventable.

Mr Chairman,

Throughout the world women are continuing to show remarkable courage, resourcefulness and resilience when faced with the effects of war. The international community has at its disposal the means both to prevent and put a stop to violence against women in wartime. This must be made the reality.