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U.N. waters down resolution on sexual violence after threat of U.S. veto

The U.S. didn't approve of language on a resolution that opposed using rape as a weapon of war.

The Guardian reported this week that the administration is trying to remove the word "gender" from various human rights documents at the United Nations. (PHOTO CREDIT: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
The Guardian reported this week that the administration is trying to remove the word "gender" from various human rights documents at the United Nations. (PHOTO CREDIT: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The United States successfully used the threat of its veto power to weaken language on a U.N. resolution against the use of rape as a weapon of war.

The resolution was only adopted Tuesday after cutting a reference on the need to provide “sexual and reproductive health” assistance to survivors of sexual violence in conflicts. The United States had threatened to veto the German-drafted resolution if it included this reference, which it perceived as support for abortion.

The Trump administration has recently refused to support any U.N. language about sexual and reproductive health, out of fear that it would aid in the provision of abortions.The administration attempted to take out language on sexual and reproductive health from several resolutions last year, but those efforts were unsuccessful. U.S. officials have also tried to remove the word “gender” from U.N. human rights documents. Last year, the United States said it wanted to remove phrases in a draft paper on the trafficking of women and girls that said “gender-based violence” and only refer to “violence against women.”

“The Trump administration’s refusal to support a UN resolution calling for access to reproductive and sexual health care for women and girls raped in conflict settings is reprehensible,” Brian Dixon, senior vice president for media and government relations at Population Connection Action Fund, a group that advocates for affordable and effective contraceptives, said in a statement. “It’s another abdication of responsibility to stand up for human rights and betrays a shocking disregard for human life and, frankly, basic decency.”

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Other key provisions of the draft resolution were also removed, such as a mechanism to monitor and report atrocities, due to objections from the United States, Russia and China, according to The Guardian.

The resolution had support from human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, Iraqi Yazidi human rights activist Nadia Murad, and Congolese gynaecologist Denis Mukwege. Murad was raped and tortured after she was captured by Islamic State fighters in Iraq in 2014. Mukwege is a specialist in the treatment of wartime sexual violence and has campaigned against the use of rape as a weapon of war.

“Yazidi women were sold as slaves as a weapon against our society,” Murad told the U.N. Security Council Tuesday. “We have failed to protect women and girls from sexual enslavement … There are some measures that we can use to prevent crimes of sexual violence. However, when we do not prevent such crimes, we must shoulder the responsibility to act accordingly by providing all forms of support to those who face sexual violence.”

Mukwege said, “I’m taking advantage of being here to recall that this care provided to victims should be considered a human right to rehabilitation in conformity with Resolution 2106.”

That resolution, adopted in 2013, recognized many needs for survivors of sexual violence and urged U.N. entities and donors to “provide non-discriminatory and comprehensive health services, including sexual and reproductive health, psychosocial, legal, and livelihood support and other multi-sectoral services for survivors of sexual violence.”

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The Trump administration has taken a number of steps to limit people’s reproductive rights. One of President Donald Trump’s first acts as president was to reinstate the global gag rule, putting heath care providers in a position to choose between U.S. global health assistance and the freedom to give people their full range of family planning and reproductive health care options. When organizations refuse to comply with the mandate, such as Marie Stopes International and the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), they lose a lot of money. Marie Stopes lost $80 million and IPPF was estimated to lose as much as $100 million. The Trump administration announced it would impose its domestic gag rule in February, prohibiting health care providers that receive federal money under the Title X program from providing or even referring patients for abortion.

The administration’s immigration policies have enacted policies that deter undocumented people who have experienced sexual violence and intimate partner violence from coming forward. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has also eased accountability measures for perpetrators and protections for victims in cases of campus sexual assault.