UNITED NATIONS – Wartime rape, a scourge of conflicts from eastern Congo to the Balkans, is never considered as a problem to be addressed in 94 percent of the peace deals formed over the past two decades, U.N. officials said Wednesday.
Just 18 of 300 such agreements since the Cold War ended in the early 1990s address sexual violence by including preventive or monitoring measures, according to the U.N. Development Fund for Women, known as UNIFEM.
UNIFEM's finding, released at a panel discussion at U.N. headquarters, was meant to highlight a U.N. Security Council resolution a year ago that sought to elevate the problem of sexual violence to a matter of international peace and security.
Safeguards for women, including access by humanitarian aid workers, are especially important before cease-fire negotiations, said UNIFEM adviser Anne-Marie Goetz.
Experts blamed the United Nations and its 192 member nations for not doing more.
"It may be one of the biggest conspiracies of silence of history," said former U.N. humanitarian chief Jan Egeland, who described sexual abuse against women as "the most haunting outrage" among all the horrors he ran across in his days at the U.N.
Egeland recalled meeting women who had been gang-raped by militia groups for weeks on end. "They were physically and mentally destroyed. And they were not one or two or five, they were thousands, in the eastern part of Congo, in Darfur, northern Uganda, Ivory Coast, many other places," he said.
Egeland said the council's resolution was the good news. "The bad news is that the Security Council, the member states, the United Nations, is not forceful enough in implementing it, in making it a reality," he said.
Patrick Cammaert, a Dutch general who formerly headed the eastern division of the U.N.'s Congo peacekeeping forces known as MONUC, said the U.N.'s credibility has suffered with lapses in protecting Congolese civilians.
"The atrocities of Kiwanja and other places lately are a shame. I have no other word for it. Shameful. Destroying the reputation of the United Nations, destroying the reputation of MONUC, and should be stopped," he said.
He was referring to a two-day massacre of some 150 civilians in Kiwanja, Congo last November and the Congolese army's integration of former rebels such as Bosco Ntaganda, a general wanted on an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court. Bosco is accused of commanding the rebel troops and child soldiers that slaughtered Kiwanja villagers.
Egeland criticized Congolese and Ugandan leaders for lack of action — but also said the international community earlier this decade "took vacation, they were not even interested" in protecting women from sexual violence in northern Uganda. That finally changed after increased international attention, he added.
Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee, who won a Profile in Courage Award in May, said at least there's growing recognition that rape is a war crime, which has emboldened women to speak out.
"Gone are the days now, where women will go to peace talks and be silent about the issue of sexual violence," she said.