Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Why the Trump Administration Threatened to Veto a UN Resolution on Wartime Rape

by Nomad

Ever since the human species climbed out of the jungle trees and began throwing rocks at one another, one of the recognized spoils of war was pillaging of the villages, the looting of the valuables and the raping of the women.
For those who subscribed to the adage that might makes right, it was only logical that the weakest should pay the price of the barbarian conquest. 
Throughout our history, women were always at particular risk of sexual victimization during conflict. "To the victor go the spoils" has long been a war cry, and female bodies generally have been classified as part of those spoils of war.

Sexual Violence as a War Crime

We would all like to think that things have changed. We are not living in the age of Vikings, after all. As a species, we have a humanitarian duty to protect the most vulnerable. Right?

The reality is that, in modern times, sexual violence remains a feature of armed conflicts in certain areas of the world. Far worse, it is often used as a strategy of war.

As the Mukwege Foundation, an international human rights organization that works to end rape as a weapon of war worldwide, points out:
In some cases, armies, rebel groups and terrorist organisations employ sexual violence as a strategy to pursue their objectives. In other cases, commanders allow their soldiers to rape women and girls as a form of reward.
As the organization notes, conflict-related sexual violence takes different forms, such as sexual slavery, forced prostitution, and sexual torture.
ISIS, for example, employed sexual violence against Yazdi women and men to undermine a sense of security within communities, and to raise funds through the sale of captives into sexual slavery. To put it another way, to assert dominance over women and the captive society.
Under international law, conflict-related sexual violence are characterized as war crimes and crimes against humanity. When it is committed with the intent to destroy a population, such as during the Rwandan genocide in 1994, systematic sexual violence can amount to genocide.

That stance of the international community was made unequivocal in the days of the post-World War II Nuremberg trials:
rape, as a strategy of war, was deemed a crime against humanity. And yet, despite plentiful evidence of acts of sexual violence- and even documentation that rape was used as a wartime strategy, there were no prosecutions for rape or other sexual violence.

Yazidi women of Northern Iraq, victims of ISIS 

When the UN was established, governments came together to enforce international law and codes of conduct, while also supporting counseling and other services for victims. 

In June 2008, United Nations Security Council Resolution 1820 states that sexual violence is “a tactic of war to humiliate, dominate, instill fear in, disperse and/or forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or an ethnic group.”

The 15-member Security Council unanimously adopted this resolution. And why not? After all, what nation in the world would send ambiguous messages on a subject like this?

A Survivor-Centered Approach vs. Zero Tolerance of Abortion

Where the US stood on this issue of rape as a war crime should have been a no-brainer, right?

And yet, last week, the US used the threat of its veto power to water down particular parts of a United Nations Security Council resolution against rape in war zones. The resolution was eventually passed but not without significant alterations.
UN officials diplomatically expressed their disappointment at how much "watering-down" had had to be done in order to placate the US. All references to the sexual and reproductive health of rape victims had to be excised from the final draft. Other items omitted included calls for a working group to review progress on ending sexual violence.

Pramila Patten, the UN special representative on sexual violence in conflict told reporters:
“They are threatening to use their veto over this agreed language on comprehensive healthcare services including sexual and reproductive health... It will be a huge contradiction that you are talking about a survivor-centered approach and you do not have language on sexual and reproductive healthcare services, which is for me the most critical.”
A survivor-centered approach means providing timely medical services to victims. For survivors of sexual violence, there is only a small window of time in which emergency contraception and post-exposure prophylaxis for STIs can be effective.

Where women are being held captive for days or weeks, that is simply not possible. Even for women with access to these services, the services they are provided may be inadequate and pregnancy is often the result.
As the international, non-governmental organization, PAI, points out:
These women and girls are left with few options. Safe abortion services are unavailable to most, as abortion is highly restricted [in certain regions] ..Women and girls desperate to put the situation behind them and fearful of the stigma rape and pregnancy may bring on them and their families have turned to dangerous procedures and even suicide.
According to a Guardian article, the no-compromise position came from the highest levels of the Trump administration:
In recent months, the Trump administration has taken a hard line, refusing to agree to any UN documents that refer to sexual or reproductive health, on grounds that such language implies support for abortions. It has also opposed the use of the word “gender”, seeing it as a cover for liberal promotion of transgender rights.
In spite of this, according to the Trump administration, if the resolution mentioned family planning clinics for victims of sexual violence in war zones, the US would not sign on, leaving the UN resolution dead in the water.

As J.M. Opal,  an Associate Professor of History at Canada's McGill University writes:
For anti-abortion extremists in the Donald Trump administration, such as Vice-President Mike Pence, the worry was that a woman from a war zone might choose to terminate a pregnancy rather than have her rapist’s child.

A Political Agenda Writ Large

As the prime support for the Trump administration, America's
Religious Right would undoubtedly see this zero tolerance policy in the UN as a major triumph.

Since the 1980s under Reagan, conservative evangelicals have declared a holy war against such issues as civil rights and women’s rights movements, LGBTQ rights, sex education and birth control along with abortion
When it comes to abortion, compromise is out of the question.

If the administration's stand actually reflected the American point of view on the subject of abortion, it might be excusable.
However, that's simply not the case.

Polls show that, particularly when it comes to reproductive health care and abortion, these far-right positions run contrary to how the majority of Americans feel. 

Add to that a Gallup poll from last year that shows a majority of Americans (62%) hold a favorable opinion of Planned Parenthood despite repeated attempts by Republican legislators to defund the organization or to shut it down altogether.

And yet, evangelicals (within and outside of the administration) see this as a critical part of the Christian Right / conservative agenda. They are convinced that God is on their side and that the protection of the fetus is paramount to all other issues. If it means stacking the Supreme Court with conservative ideologues, then it is all part of God's will.

Ultimately, this will become a matter resolved at the ballot boxes across the US in 2020 and beyond. It could well be the cross that The Republican party will die on. That is, if enough people- meaning, women- get motivated to vote in their own interest.

The problem comes when religious nationalism warps America's positions on human rights around the world.
The US is, in effect, forfeiting its long-standing role as protector of the weak in the name of the narrow goals of an extremist right-wing minority.

As far as reaffirming international law, nobody expects much from this administration. Trump has repeatedly shown his contempt for law- both nationally and internationally.
This administration has now made it clear that, in exchange for evangelical support, it is willing to turn its back on sexually- and emotionally- traumatized women all over the world if there's even the hint of an abortion involved.

So as far as this administration is concerned, female rape victims in war zones should be denied access to reproductive health care. If they become pregnant, that's just God's gift (as Rick Santorum and other conservatives have said in the past about rape pregnancies). These women should carry to term an unwanted child. And what woman wouldn't want to care for a life-long reminder of the violence inflicted on her?

Using (or misusing) American international clout (and now-flailing prestige) to handicap international resolutions on such a crucial subject as wartime rape apparently is now the norm.

when signing a tough anti-abortion law for Indiana, Evangelical Pence once said:  
“I believe that a society can be judged by how it deals with its most vulnerable — the aged, the infirm, the disabled and the unborn."
But that vulnerability apparently does not extend to the victims of rape in a war zone.