France condemns Trump administration for watering down UN resolution opposing rape in war: 'Intolerable and incomprehensible'

'We are appalled by the fact that a state has demanded the withdrawal of the reference,' French ambassador says

Tom Embury-Dennis
Wednesday 24 April 2019 12:37
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Amal Clooney backs UN resolution to fight rape as a weapon of war as US 'threatens to veto it'

France has condemned the Trump administration after it forced the United Nations (UN) to water down a resolution opposing rape as a weapon of war.

The UN Security Council passed the measure, but only after the US, which threatened to veto the resolution entirely, insisted that sections promising “sexual and reproductive health” assistance by UN bodies to survivors of sexual violence were removed.

Diplomats said it considered the long-agreed phrase as code for increasing abortion rights.

The veto threat was the latest in a string of policy reversals some UN officials say have been driven by US vice-president Mike Pence, who is known to staunchly oppose abortion rights.

Mr Pence was not involved in directing US diplomats during the negotiations, a White House aide said. They added that the adopted text "ended up in a place that is closer in line with the White House's priorities”.

The compromise by the 15-member body was criticised by France’s ambassador to the UN, Francois Dellatre, who said his country was “appalled” by America’s demands.

“It is intolerable and incomprehensible that the Security Council is incapable of acknowledging that women and girls who suffered from sexual violence in conflict – and who obviously didn’t choose to become pregnant – should have the right to terminate their pregnancy,” he said.

“We are appalled by the fact that a state has demanded the withdrawal of the reference to sexual and reproductive health – a challenge to 25 years of achievements in favour of women’s rights in situations of armed conflict.”

The language promoting sexual and reproductive health has long been agreed.

It featured in resolutions adopted by the Security Council in 2009 and 2013, along with several resolutions adopted annually by the 193-member General Assembly.

The text simply reaffirms the council's commitment to the 2009 and 2013 resolutions.

A reference to the work of the International Criminal Court in fighting the most serious crimes against women and girls was also watered-down to win over Washington, which is not a member of the institution.

Before the vote, US ambassador to the UN, Jonathan Cohen, told the Security Council: "None of us can turn our backs on this issue. It requires the engagement of all member states and of the United Nations to support the efforts of those fighting to protect women, provide accountability, and support survivors.”

Thirteen council members voted in favour of the resolution, while Russia and China abstained over a number of concerns - including a German push for expanded UN monitoring of sexual violence in conflict.

They also circulated their own rival draft text, which they did not put to a vote.

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"Please do not even try to paint us as opponents of the fight against sexual violence in conflict. Our stance on this issue remains firm and unyielding, this scourge has to be eliminated," said Russia's UN ambassador Vassily Nebenzia.

The council voted after hearing briefings from Nobel Peace Prize winners Nadia Murad, an Iraqi Yazidi woman who was held as a sex slave by Isis militants. Congolese doctor Denis Mukwege, who treats rape victims, Libyan rights activist Inas Miloud and international human rights lawyer Amal Clooney also spoke.

The Trump administration cut US funding in 2017 for the US Population Fund because it "supports, or participates in the management of, a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilisation”.

The UN said that was an inaccurate perception.

In 2018 the administration unsuccessfully tried to remove language on sexual and reproductive health from several General Assembly resolutions, then failed in a similar campaign last month during the annual US Commission on the Status of Women meeting.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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