Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Reflections on Women, Girls and Armed Conflict

March 8, 2011

Radhika Coomaraswamy

Under-Secretary-General, Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict

[Potential Asian challenger to Ban]

I spend a lot of time with children these days, but it was the cause of women that pushed me to initially try and lobby the world to stand firm in the fight for the dispossessed and the vulnerable. As UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women for nine years, I traveled the world over to listen to victims and to argue with governments. I have forgotten the faces of the many officials I met, both national and international, but never the faces of the victims. They taught me so much about how to cope with life despite all the suffering. Recently at a UNECSO event, the former Governor General of Canada and a Special Envoy for Haiti said she hates the word "resilience" used in the Haitian context. She said resilience for women and children comes just before death. Talk of resilience makes us complacent in the belief that after a time the victims will recover no matter what we do. I agree with her we cannot afford to be complacent. But I do remember the resilience in the eyes of women survivors. It did not stop me from acting -- it just made me proud to be human.

Armed conflict is a terrible place for women and children. Often they are victims of direct physical violence. Some are killed, but more often they are raped. In the mid 1990s, while visiting an unnamed country, the lawyers in the foreign ministry, armed with law books, asked me to show them where it was written that rape in wartime is a war crime or crime against humanity. The lawyers were right -- the law with regard to rape as a "grave breach" of the Geneva Convention was unclear and ambiguous.

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