Believe it or not, the U.N. Security Council has only now declared rape a war crime. In fact, just last year, a similar resolution to define rape as a weapon of war failed to pass; China, Russia and South Africa deemed it an unfortunate byproduct, rather than a strategy, of war. But during a special Security Council session Thursday, led by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, that stale baloney was belatedly tossed in the garbage. "I am proud that today we respond to that lingering question with a resounding yes," Rice said. "This world body now acknowledges that sexual violence in conflict zones is indeed a security concern. We affirm that sexual violence profoundly affects not only the health and safety of women, but the economic and social stability of their nations."
In defining rape as a war crime, the U.N. has officially recognized that it is an issue of peace and security -- and one that requires monitoring and prosecution. The resolution calls for a crackdown on "peacekeepers" who exploit women and children during times of conflict and calls for countries to punish troops that commit sex crimes (as the U.N. doesn't have the power to pursue prosecution). Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said sexual violence during war has reached "unspeakable and pandemic proportions" and that the council has "zero tolerance" for such abuse by U.N. workers.
Tardy as this resolution may be, I experienced it as the only true antidote to an article I read just hours before about how rape has become one of the biggest problem facing Darfur (now, that is saying a whole hell of a lot). CNN reports that rape has become "a way of life" for thousands of women and girls, some as young as 4, in the region. In a perfect illustration of how rape is, indeed, an issue of international peace and security, Refugees International called it "an integral part of the pattern of violence that the government of Sudan is inflicting upon the targeted ethnic groups in Darfur." Adding to the tragedy, many women in Darfur are giving up children conceived through rape; in one refugee camp of 22,000, as many as 20 babies are abandoned each month.
Here's to better news a year from now when the U.N. Security Council reconvenes to evaluate the impact of the resolution.