Council for Justice and Peace calls for greater protection for women from sexual violence in war
Pope Benedict XVI, at a meeting with Political and Civil Authorities in Angola on 20 March 2009, stated: “Particularly disturbing is the crushing yoke of discrimination that women and girls so often endure, not to mention the unspeakable practice of sexual violence and exploitation which causes such humiliation and trauma.”
- We call on the new Government to make the protection of women from sexual violence in war a priority issue.
- The work of agencies such as Trócaire in the area of gender equality needs to be adequately supported. It is vital that we meet our target of 0.7% of our national income on Overseas Development Assistance by 2015.
- The new Government should give sustained financial, political and moral support to ‘UN Women – the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women’, which was established in February 2011.
- Our commitment to protecting women from sexual violence needs to be enshrined in a National Action Plan for Ireland on UN Security Council Resolution 1325, to promote the full implementation of this resolution, with robust provisions for monitoring and evaluation.
Bishop Raymond Field, Chair of the Council for Justice and Peace, in marking International Women’s Day, stated today: “Sadly, although great progress has been made in recent years in recognising gender-based violence in armed conflict as a war crime, little has been achieved in terms of the protection of women or bringing the perpetrators to justice. For women in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the situation remains as dangerous today as in 2008.”
Bishop Field continued “It needs to be recognised that the failure to protect the right of women and girls to security seriously impedes their ability to avail of their other rights: social, political and economic.”
This CJP statement highlights concerns expressed in 2008 by by the Irish Commission for Justice and Social Affairs about violence against women in the Democratic Republic of Congo. That statement highlighted the systematic rape and sexual assault of women and girls in the region, which was being used as a means of instilling fear into the wider population. While we are conscious that systematic acts of violence against women can also be a feature of peaceful and post-conflict societies, the particular focus of this statement is the use of violence against women as a weapon in conflict.
In a recent briefing to the member states of the Human Rights Council, Margot Wallström, UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, expressed concern about the situation of women in the region, including those who fled to neighbouring Angola and suffered similar violence at the hands of the Security Forces there. Dr. Wallström warned that sexual violence was increasingly being used to influence the outcome of elections, citing the Cote d’Ivoire as a recent example.
It is important to emphasise, however, that this is not simply an African phenomenon. The Special Representative has also made a recent visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina and reports that there have been, to date, just 12 convictions for the rapes committed during the 1992-1995 conflict (estimated to be between 20,000 and 50,000). Victims described how the ‘climate of impunity’ has become a ‘climate of intimidation’ where ‘survivors are tormented by routine encounters with former rapists, seeing them in the street, bank or supermarket’.
The courageous testimony of the victims and survivors of the Bosnian conflict effectively illustrates the devastating impact of these crimes and the long-term nature of the consequences, not only for the victims themselves, but also for their families and the wider community. The humiliation, fear and anger that form part of the aftermath of sexual violence represent a serious obstacle to post-conflict reconstruction and reconciliation. In the words of Dr. Wallström: “Women carry children, they carry water, they carry produce, they carry everything. They also carry responsibility but they also carry the shame and that is not right.”
United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325, unanimously adopted over a decade ago, explicitly “calls on all parties to armed conflict to take special measures to protect women and girls from gender-based violence” (art.10) and emphasizes “the responsibility of all States” to prosecute those guilty of war crimes “including those relating to sexual violence against women and girls” (art.11).
There is an obvious need for robust measures to bring an end to impunity, ensuring that the perpetrators of sexual violence cannot achieve positions of power in the post-conflict society. UNSCR 1325 also clearly articulates the need to ensure that women play an active role in peace-building and post-conflict reconstruction. Full implementation of this resolution would help to address the root causes of gender-based violence and empower women to avail of their rights and make their contribution to society.
Addressing the causes of violence against women and assisting the victims and survivors are clear priorities in the gender equality work carried out by Trócaire in the developing world and here in Ireland. Working with partner organisations, including local Churches, Trócaire aims to support the empowerment of women and the defence of their rights. Funding from Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) is essential to this work and it is vital that Ireland remains on course to achieve our commitment of allocating 0.7% of our national income to ODA by 2015.
Bishop Field concluded: “As we mark the centenary of International Women’s Day (1911-2011) today, we celebrate the progress that has been made in terms of women’s rights and the economic, social and political achievements of women. The vital contribution that women make to society must be adequately valued and protected.
“From a Christian perspective, we hold that responding to gender-based violence is a moral imperative, deeply rooted in our belief that every human person, male and female, is made in the image of God: ‘Being in the image of God the human individual possesses the dignity of a person, who is not just something, but someone.’
“We emphasise that the issue of sexual violence against women and girls in zones of conflict must also be considered in the context of wider manifestations of such violence throughout the world, including domestic violence and human trafficking. It needs to be recognised that violence against women has a negative impact on society as a whole. It affects everyone and we all have a responsibility to work towards the eradication of these crimes.”
The role of the Council for Justice and Peace of the Irish Episcopal Conference is to support the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference in promoting the social teaching of the Church and to advise on issues of social concern, both nationally and internationally.
A spokesperson is available to comment on this statement, please see contact details below.
The Council for Justice and Peace was formerly known as the Irish Commission for Justice and Social Affairs.
 Full text of the statement ‘Violence against Women in War – We cannot remain silent’, available at www.catholicbishops.ie.
 See UN Security Council Resolutions 1325 (2000) and 1820 (2008).
 This is clearly acknowledged in UN Security Council Resolution 1960 (2010).
 ‘General Briefing to Member States of the Human Rights Council on Sexual Violence in Conflict’, SRSG on Sexual Violence in Conflict: Margot Wallström, Geneva, 10 February 2011. www.stoprapenow.org
 Margot Wallström, UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, 8 February 2011. www.unmultimedia.org