Under pressure from the United States, China and Russia, the U.N. Security Council weakened a resolution to combat rape as a weapon of war by removing measures for investigating crimes and offering victims’ services.
U.S. opposition forced the council to water down the annual resolution by deleting a provision to offer sexual and reproductive health care to victims. Though the language mirrored previous resolutions on sexual and reproductive rights, the Trump administration viewed it as tantamount to abortion support.
Opposition from China and Russia forced the removal of a section that would have provided for a new monitoring body or investigative mechanism into rape and sexual assault during war.
Germany, which held this month’s revolving council presidency, sponsored the original resolution. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas presided over the session, which ended with the weakened resolution gaining approval in a 13-o vote of the 15-nation council. The United States voted in favor of it; China and Russia abstained.
Each of the council’s five permanent members — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — hold veto power. The arrangement amounts to a frozen reflection of the world’s power structure just after the end of World War II — and a decades-old topic on how to reform the world body’s most powerful arm.
The section of the resolution dealing with sexual and reproductive health was removed despite efforts to preserve Germany’s original version, favored by a majority of diplomats and prominent advocates.
Those included U.N. Undersecretary-General Pramila Patten, a lawyer from Mauritius, who was appointed as the U.N. special representative on sexual violence in conflict in April 2017; two Nobel Prize winners, Nadia Murad and Dr. Denis Mukwege; and international human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, who appealed for justice for tens of thousands of sexual assault victims of the Islamic State militant group and other regimes.
Clooney criticized the United States and Russia for attacking the International Criminal Court, or ICC. The United States also had insisted in eliminating references to the ICC as a means of prosecuting suspected perpetrators of sexual violence. Clooney called out U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for opposing the ICC, and Russia for making a similar statement last month.
“I agree that we are facing an epidemic of sexual violence and I believe that justice is the antidote,” Clooney told the council.
“If this august body cannot prevent sexual violence in war, then it must at least punish it,” she said. “So instead of abandoning international justice, we must stand up for it. Because justice is not inevitable; it doesn’t just happen. And it doesn’t stand a chance if people in power, including those at this table, don’t make it a priority.”
Given the U.S. opposition, Clooney’s summation was ironic. She referred to the example set by Allied forces that put Nazi leaders on trial for war crimes before the U.S.-led International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg, Germany. “This is your Nuremberg moment; your chance to stand on the right side of history,” she said.
An ‘inexplicable’ objection
Earlier this month, the Trump administration made good on its threat to block the ICC from investigating Americans, revoking a U.S. travel visa for the war crimes tribunal’s chief prosecutor. Last September, Bolton harshly condemned the ICC, one of the most-hated international organizations for conservatives.
The ICC was created in 2002 as a court of “last resort” that would be authorized to step in only after nations had failed to prosecute individuals for the most serious crimes under international law — crimes against humanity, genocide, war crimes and aggression.
But the United States never ratified the Rome Statute, the treaty that underpins the world’s first permanent international criminal court. The Philippines withdrew from it in March, only the second nation to do so after Burundi in 2017. Malaysia joined the ICC in March, leaving the court with 123 member nations.
The U.S. veto threat drew fire from other council members. France’s U.N. envoy François Delattre said it was “inexplicable that access to sexual and reproductive health is not explicitly recognized for victims of sexual violence, who are often the targets of atrocious acts of violence and barbaric mutilation.”
Maas said the Security Council resolution nonetheless drew greater attention to an important matter.
A day ahead of the meeting, Maas and Angelina Jolie, a special envoy for the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, had a joint op-ed article published in The Washington Post. It urged the international community to provide better support for survivors of sexual violence and to end impunity for those who use rape as a weapon of war.
They outlined three areas that “need urgent focus” through a Security Council resolution: holding perpetrators of sexual violence accountable; better monitoring to ensure compliance; and increased support to survivors of sexual violence that puts their voices at the center of the world’s response.
“A survivor-centered approach must include victims often overlooked, including boys or men and children born of rape. All victims deserve full access to justice, compensation and financial support to lead a dignified life and to be able to play their part in changing their societies,” they wrote.