Another day. Another outrage by the Trump administration. This time the outrage happened on the floor of the United Nations. While the attention of the American people was focused on the troubling conclusions of the Mueller investigation, the Trump administration’s U.N. delegation bullied its way to dominating the terms and diluting the intentions of what was an otherwise noble effort to prevent, treat the aftermath, and pursue justice for sexually victimized civilians in conflict zones – commonly referred to as conflict-related sexual violence.
What is conflict-related sexual violence and who are its victims?
Conflict-related sexual violence is understood to be sexual violence committed by armed actors during conflict. This type of sexual violence most often is aimed at girls and women but sometimes includes boys and men. It is often based on ethnic or political identity. A 2017 report by the U.N. secretary general called conflict-related sexual violence a global epidemic employed as a systematic tactic of warfare, intimidation, terrorism, and torture that destroys the social fabric of communities.
The list of recent conflicts in which documented cases of conflict-related sexual violence have commonly been employed as intimidation tactics spans the continents. Afghanistan, Burundi, the Central African Republic, Colombia, Darfur, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Myanmar, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, and Yemen are just some of the places where hundreds of thousands of non-combatants have been systematically brutalized and traumatized.
What just happened at the United Nations in the name of the American people?
A decades-long, painstaking process to gather data, document survivors’ first-hand accounts, and negotiate terms for a resolution addressing conflict-related sexual violence was suddenly and unexpectedly upended by the U.S. threatening to veto the final language due to ideological concerns about implications in the resolution’s language for providing abortion services to victims of sexual violence and forced rape.
In a particularly out-of-touch and cruel display of disregard for the suffering of victims and their need for survivor-related services, the Trump administration threatened to veto the resolution and set back years of international efforts to address the violence and suffering if the resolution contained any reference to reproductive rights. Here’s how Foreign Policy magazine described the Trump administration’s outrageous and factually dubious reasoning for the threatened veto:
“The Trump administration pressured Germany into watering down a United Nations resolution aimed at preventing rape in conflict situations, forcing it to remove language on sexual and reproductive health that key Trump administration officials say normalizes sexual activity and condones abortion, according to U.N.-based diplomats and an internal State Department cable.”
Ultimately the authors of the resolution, the German delegation, were so desperate to save what they could that they gave in to the Americans’ demands and stripped the resolution of the language on reproductive rights. On Tuesday, April 23, 2019, Resolution 2467 (2019) passed, with thirteen votes in favor, none against, and the Russian Federation and China abstaining.
Following the vote, it was reported that one diplomat observed that the resolution had been “reduced so much that it’s now inadequate and there isn’t much left.” In a joint statement, four countries–-Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden—dared to speak out against what they saw as “the lack of reference to victims’ rights due to the threat of a U.S. veto.” A French diplomat didn’t bother to hide the scorn shared by a majority of the international community when condemning the American tactics. “The Americans have taken negotiations hostage based on their own ideology. It’s scandalous.”
I suppose most Americans will never hear about what just happened at the United Nations. They probably will never hear about the continued suffering of millions of victims of conflict-related sexual violence in places too far away to pay attention to, nor understand how the Trump administration, with its penchant for ignoring the suffering its policies inflict, forced the international community to back down from their well-intentioned efforts to address the victims’ suffering. Once again—in our name—the Trump administration brought shame upon this country on the international stage.
The video below, produced by the U.N. Departments of Peacekeeping Operations and Field Support, documents the staggering scale of conflict-related sexual violence and explains how this brutality rises to the definition of war crimes, crimes against humanity, or acts of torture or genocide.