Elisabeth Rehn: Rape is increasingly used as a war weapon
“In modern time wars, a woman’s body is used as a battle field”, says Elisabeth Rehn. She recently returned from New York where she introduced her report on the influence of armed conflicts on women. “Rape is a significant war tool all over the world because wars are no longer conflicts between states. In civil wars no methods are too brutal to be used”.
The report, commissioned by the United Nations Development Fund for Women, took Elisabeth Rehn and her Liberian associate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to conflict areas around the world: East Timor, Cambodia, Somalia, Congo, Rwanda, Balkans, Middle East and Colombia. According to Rehn they met raped women, girls who were being forced to work as sex slaves for soldiers and women who were assaulted by their husbands after the war.
“I would feel totally hopeless, if women were not so magnificently strong”, Rehn describes her experiences. However, she criticises the international community for not including women in peace negotiations. Due to the fact that women often have no other alternative than to try to make a living by prostitution after they have lost their husbands in battles. Governments should recognise their responsibility in this issue and let women have leading positions in peace keeping operations, Rehn believes.
Rehn is also worried about HIV and AIDS, which are spreading explosively in conflict areas. According to statistics, soldiers have even five times more sexually transmitted diseases than civilians. Not only soldiers but also peacekeepers are guilty of rapes and sexual abuse of minors. There should be clear rules and punishments applying to everyone, Rehn says.
“It is not sufficient that just the rule-breakers are sent back home. If a crime has been committed, the culprit should be impeached and convicted”, Rehn points out.
UN does not tolerate any criminal behaviour from its employees. However, there are also other organisations active in conflict areas, and Rehn is more worried about their workers. Sometimes sexual abuse has been defended with the old cliché: men have their needs. However, helpers should think about the needs of the people they are helping, Rehn emphasises.
Rape cases are not usually taken to courts because they are so painful for the victims. In Kosovo, for instance, no charges have been pressed although there are international judges in the province. Rehn feels that victims are nevertheless entitled to know the truth. She says also that the so called immunity rules protecting soldiers in high positions should be abolished.
Rehn is amased by the toughness of women who have suffered in wars. All over the world women’s hopes are similar: they want to have education and take part in political decision-making. For instance, in East Timor 27 percent of election candidates were women and two of them were elected as minister of justice and minister of finance. “We have the courage to believe in women”, Rehn encapsulates.
Rehn mentions also inner refugees, who have received less attention internationally. There are over 20 million internal refugees in the world but no organisation is responsible of them. “Their rights must be improved”, Rehn says.