x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

The brutal war that simply must be won

The international community must take concrete action to tackle the issue of sexual violence in conflict areas.

The United Nations has adopted an agreement condemning sexual violence against women as a tactic of war. The initiative demands immediate strong action by all parties to combat the issue. Rape has long been used in war zones to humiliate, dominate, scare and forcibly relocate civilian members of communities.

Many women and girls report being attacked in public or even in their homes by strangers, who are usually armed. Gang rapes are depressingly common. This is sexual violence as a calculated military tactic.

In conservative societies, survivors are usually rejected by other members of society, sometimes by their own relatives. This is in addition to the psychological trauma that stays with victims for the rest of their lives. Despite all this, the number of prosecutions remains small.

In Syria, where sexual violence has reached alarming levels in the two and half years since the country tumbled into civil war, thousands of female refugees have fled to neighbouring countries, many of them citing fear of sexual attacks as their primary reason for escaping. In other war and disaster zones, such as Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, the Darfur region of Sudan, Somalia and elsewhere, sexual violence still prevails.

As The National reported yesterday, the UAE has become one of 113 countries to sign a United Nations pledge to end sexual violence in conflict areas. It did so during the UN General Assembly on Tuesday night in New York City. Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, told the UN meeting that the UAE is committed to eliminating sexual violence in war zones, describing it as “barbarism”. The country has also recently donated Dh5.7 million to tackle rape in Somalia.

As Sheikh Abdullah said in his speech: “We can no longer accept that such crimes will be an inevitable result of conflicts in the 21st century.”

This agreement elevates war zone rape, a despicable crime, to the level of a gross and violent act against humanity.

Such crimes have persisted because they have been surrounded by a sense of immunity from prosecution. Its perpetrators previously felt that they could operate without fear of retribution. The failures of history have taught them this depressing lesson.

This pledge will stop those false and vile assumptions.