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Advancement of women: Implementation of the outcome of the Fourth World Conference on Women

18-10-2001 Statement

Implementation of the outcome of the Fourth World Conference on Women and of the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly, entitled "Women 2000: gender equality, development and peace for the twenty-first century". United Nations General Assembly, 56th session, Third Committee, Items 112 and 113 of the agenda. Statement by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), New York, 18 October 2001.


Mr Chairman,

Humanitarian emergencies have different impacts on men and women, adults and children. Recognizing this and responding appropriately are vital to ensuring that the impact of armed conflict on the different categories of victims is not further aggravated. In this context, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has repeatedly expressed its concern about the situation of women and called for increased attention to their plight.

At the XXVIIth International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, the ICRC pledged to promote respect for women in armed conflicts. Three years ago, it also initiated a study on the impact of war on women. The research was based on its experience and understanding gained through working with and on behalf of women in such situations.

The study, entitled Women Facing War , has just been published. It is hoped that it will contribute to raising greater awareness of the impact of today's wars on women, and equally important, of the protection that is afforded to them under international law. Indeed, promoting the relevant legal norms, provided in particular by international humanitarian law - and to a certain extent also by human rights and refugee law - is a prerequisite for their application.

Mr. Chairman,

The study draws a number of conclusions, some of which the Committee would like to share with you today.

 Women Facing War shows that women experience war in a multitude of ways - from taking an active part as combatants, to being targeted as members of the civilia n population or simply because they are women. For innumerable women, war entails separation, loss of family members and livelihood, an increased risk of sexual violence, wounding, deprivation and death. War forces women into unfamiliar roles and necessitates the strengthening of existing coping skills and the development of new ones. The study reveals that women are facing war with courage, resilience and skill despite the tremendous dangers and losses that characterize conflicts. Thus, in order to better protect and assist women, it is important to involve them in the measures taken on their behalf.

Although it is generally accepted that there are limits to warfare, these are regularly breached. Women are increasingly at risk. Experience has shown that their safety is not guaranteed by the respect due to their gender. The growing disregard for the rule of law begs one fundamental question: How is it possible to secure respect for the distinction between civilians and combatants so as to prevent a further widening of the scope of violence ? Answering this is a challenge for us all.

The study shows that, when considering as a whole the different applicable legal regimes, in particular humanitarian and human rights law, existing norms provide adequate coverage of the needs of women in situations of armed conflict. The key therefore lies in implementing the existing rules. In this regard, mechanisms for enforcing rights and redressing violations are of crucial importance. Recent developments, both at the national and international levels, in the prosecution of those responsible for war crimes are a very important step in the fight against impunity.

Mr Chairman,

The ICRC is fully committed to appropriately assisting and protecting women by all means available to it. However, improving the lot of women in times of war is everyone's responsibility. It is time that international humanitarian law, which aims at limiting the level of violence during armed conflict, be put into practice.

Thank you Mr Chairman.