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'Women have become today's frontline soldiers - without guns'

Margot Wallstrom, the UN's special envoy on sexual violence in conflict, explains how women become horribly tangled with wars - like it or not. Here, she outlines why major problems remain, why prosecutions remain key and her disappointment at progress so far.

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How would you describe the progress

that's been made on the issues

contained in the resolution?

I would describe it

as rather slow and patchy.

I think that we don't see women

as mediators and negotiators still.

We don't see them represented where

important decisions are being made

to the extent that we were

hoping ten years ago.

I think that this is still not regarded

as a proper security policy issue

to look at the role of women and only

- is it - nineteen countries up till now

have adopted national action plans.

That's too bad.

Do you feel that the lack of progress

has been due to a lack

of political will?

Yes. I think there is the lack

of political will in some quarters

and this is of course also a matter

of balancing power and influence.

And that is why it will always

be controversial and difficult.

So, it's a struggle and a fight

for the rights of women.

One of the aspects

that's mentioned in the resolution

is to try to see more women

in decision making positions.

Clearly, in some African countries,

such as Liberia and Sierra Leone,

there are women

in high-up positions now.

Do you feel that the effect

that was hoped for

from having women

in more decision making positions,

has filtered through

in changing attitudes?

Definitely. It means the whole world

to have women there

like Ellen Johnson Sirleaf,

the President of Liberia,

because the signal is

very, very clear from top down

that women have to be respected,

that they have a role to play.

And I think that the precedent

this sets, is extremely important.

And I think you need

a kind of critical mass of women

to ensure that the issues

that many women care for,

health care,

sort of equal rights in general,

also child care and all these things,

that this is effected

and that this will change.

How important do you feel

that participation of women

in the military, in the armed forces is?

- It's the same thing there

and this is one of the things

we have been discussing now

after the terrible incidents

in the Eastern DRC.

If only there had been more women

peacekeepers, or women police,

it would have also made it easier

for these women to contact them,

to tell about

what they had been exposed to.

It means also change on the ground.

That is indeed very important.

I think many of the European

countries have for example

a higher level of awareness when it

comes to gender equality, and so on.

They can probably also provide

training and help with those things

to many of the troop and police

contributing countries to the UN.

Some have pointed out

that the conditions

before the violence occurs,

and dealing with the conditions

in terms of increasing education,

or tackling poverty,

are actually more important

in preventing the violence

against women in conflicts.

Others have looked at prosecution,

better judicial procedures

for actually punishing those

who carry out these crimes.

How do you see the importance

of the before and the after?

You have to deal with all

of these things at the same time.

You have to clarify

that this is a crime,

that this is illegal,

that this is something

that is a violation of human rights

when these rapes happen

and that it has to stop.

It means that you have to end

impunity, because if the message is

that you can get away with it,

and you leave the women in shame,

but all the perpetrators

all the time walk free,

then of course

we cannot stop this phenomenon.

You have to do that, but you

also have to make sure that you work

long term to change the conditions

that also create wars and conflict

because we have to realise that

the nature of wars has also changed.

Very rarely you have two well

equipped and well trained armies

fighting over territory,

respecting war rules so to say,

or conventions

establishing rules for fighting wars.

Today is much more

of civil unrest, failed states.

And it means

that victims are civilians.

A majority of the victims in modern

wars are women and children.

So, that means that women have

become sort of today's front soldiers

without guns and the war is fought

on their bodies instead.

This is criminal.

It is not cultural, it's criminal

and it has to be dealt with as a crime.

It is unfortunately a silent,

efficient and cheap tactic of war

or weapon of war and it is important

to say that it is not only in Africa.

We can see it also in Asia.

We get reports from all

over the world to our office here.

They point to Nepal, women there.

They point to Columbia.

We have other examples.

That's an important point,

because clearly you are focused

on sexual violence in conflict, but

it doesn't just have to be a war zone.

According to some reports,

this is also used as a technique

to intimidate opposition groups.

Yes, we have seen it

in places after elections.

For example also

in Kenya and in Guinea.

This was a way to sort of punish

political opponents or the opposition.

This was rather shocking that it

happened in a country like Kenya,

but it has been documented,

well documented.

So, we cannot sort of discount this

from even the risk of it appearing

in a country like Liberia,

which is a post-conflict country.

So, we've warned against this being

used in election campaigns as well.

You talked about the silence

of the crime.

Do you think

that one of the biggest problems is

that it's an unseen crime largely?

Many crimes against humanity

get a lot of coverage,

but clearly this is largely

unseen and uncovered.

And that there's a large amount

of silence about it by the victims

because they feel the stigma?

I think this is the nature of this crime

and this human rights violation

that it leaves women

stigmatised and ashamed.

And impunity reigns.

And that is what we

of course have to change.

This is also

why I think that the debate

after the last incidents in the DRC

actually points

to a change also in the international

reaction to these crimes.

So, the outcry and the condemnation

from so many countries

and different parties

and governments, what have you,

I think meant that we're moving

in another direction.

And my appointment, the fact that

there is a Special Representative

working on this issue, gives us

an opportunity to turn things around.

You said, we have

to prosecute the perpetrators,

otherwise the whole talk about

ending impunity means nothing.

So, how does the UN

move forward on prosecution

and on harmonious prosecution?

Well, you see, in this case,

of course, they have to work

with the national governments

in the DRC and in other places.

They have to make sure that the

government takes the responsibility

to apprehend the perpetrators

and charge them with these crimes.

And this time, I think we should

offer our help and contribution

to finding the perpetrators,

go after them,

have a much more sort of active

posture in this conflict in the DRC.

And also mobilise the full attention

and activity from the government.

I am also hopeful

that the ICC in The Hague now

will bring up

important principal cases.

In terms of punishment, are you

worried that there may end up

being a kind

of mixed message on this?

Well, this is the situation today.

This is how it has worked until now.

Almost nobody has been caught

or sort of brought to justice

for this type of crime.

So, I'm hopeful

that we will turn this around

and that we will go

after the perpetrators this time.

And I think it's important that you

show the whole line of command

that there is a command

responsibility, but also that,

not only foot soldiers in that case

are sort of caught or put to jail,

but also colonels, or you know,

the whole range of commanders.

And I actually believe that the system

of these signals is so strong,

that the minute you start to make

clear that it is unacceptable

and that it will be punished,

both in the military justice

and in sort of civil society and

in the justice system in every country,

that minute we will also

start to be able to end impunity.

And that's about deterrents.

Do you think

there is a role for the UN

in helping the victims

recover from this experience?

Of course there is an important role

to help the victims

and again to speak about it openly.

To tell everybody

that they are not to feel ashamed,

that they should not be

sort of victimised forever.

Women are also the most important

agents for change in their countries

and they have

a very important role to play

in their communities and societies.

And I think we will also

try to clarify, or to explain,

that there is

a so much higher cost for society

when this is done to so many women.

The cost for economic and social

development in these countries.

It will take so much longer, as has

been proven in Liberia, for example.

Okay, final question.

Having read again the UNSCR1325,

how would you rewrite

the resolution today, if you had to?

I think we don't have

to rewrite that much.

I think we should implement

what is the basic idea in 1325,

to make sure

that women are counted on,

that women are being given a voice,

that they are represented,

that they are round the table,

that they are appointed

as mediators and negotiators,

that they are counted as an agent

for change and for peace.

And without women,

you cannot have security,

without the women's security

you cannot build any security.

How would you describe the progress

that's been made on the issues

contained in the resolution?

I would describe it

as rather slow and patchy.

I think that we don't see women

as mediators and negotiators still.

We don't see them represented where

important decisions are being made

to the extent that we were

hoping ten years ago.

I think that this is still not regarded

as a proper security policy issue

to look at the role of women and only

- is it - nineteen countries up till now

have adopted national action plans.

That's too bad.

Do you feel that the lack of progress

has been due to a lack

of political will?

Yes. I think there is the lack

of political will in some quarters

and this is of course also a matter

of balancing power and influence.

And that is why it will always

be controversial and difficult.

So, it's a struggle and a fight

for the rights of women.

One of the aspects

that's mentioned in the resolution

is to try to see more women

in decision making positions.

Clearly, in some African countries,

such as Liberia and Sierra Leone,

there are women

in high-up positions now.

Do you feel that the effect

that was hoped for

from having women

in more decision making positions,

has filtered through

in changing attitudes?

Definitely. It means the whole world

to have women there

like Ellen Johnson Sirleaf,

the President of Liberia,

because the signal is

very, very clear from top down

that women have to be respected,

that they have a role to play.

And I think that the precedent

this sets, is extremely important.

And I think you need

a kind of critical mass of women

to ensure that the issues

that many women care for,

health care,

sort of equal rights in general,

also child care and all these things,

that this is effected

and that this will change.

How important do you feel

that participation of women

in the military, in the armed forces is?

- It's the same thing there

and this is one of the things

we have been discussing now

after the terrible incidents

in the Eastern DRC.

If only there had been more women

peacekeepers, or women police,

it would have also made it easier

for these women to contact them,

to tell about

what they had been exposed to.

It means also change on the ground.

That is indeed very important.

I think many of the European

countries have for example

a higher level of awareness when it

comes to gender equality, and so on.

They can probably also provide

training and help with those things

to many of the troop and police

contributing countries to the UN.

Some have pointed out

that the conditions

before the violence occurs,

and dealing with the conditions

in terms of increasing education,

or tackling poverty,

are actually more important

in preventing the violence

against women in conflicts.

Others have looked at prosecution,

better judicial procedures

for actually punishing those

who carry out these crimes.

How do you see the importance

of the before and the after?

You have to deal with all

of these things at the same time.

You have to clarify

that this is a crime,

that this is illegal,

that this is something

that is a violation of human rights

when these rapes happen

and that it has to stop.

It means that you have to end

impunity, because if the message is

that you can get away with it,

and you leave the women in shame,

but all the perpetrators

all the time walk free,

then of course

we cannot stop this phenomenon.

You have to do that, but you

also have to make sure that you work

long term to change the conditions

that also create wars and conflict

because we have to realise that

the nature of wars has also changed.

Very rarely you have two well

equipped and well trained armies

fighting over territory,

respecting war rules so to say,

or conventions

establishing rules for fighting wars.

Today is much more

of civil unrest, failed states.

And it means

that victims are civilians.

A majority of the victims in modern

wars are women and children.

So, that means that women have

become sort of today's front soldiers

without guns and the war is fought

on their bodies instead.

This is criminal.

It is not cultural, it's criminal

and it has to be dealt with as a crime.

It is unfortunately a silent,

efficient and cheap tactic of war

or weapon of war and it is important

to say that it is not only in Africa.

We can see it also in Asia.

We get reports from all

over the world to our office here.

They point to Nepal, women there.

They point to Columbia.

We have other examples.

That's an important point,

because clearly you are focused

on sexual violence in conflict, but

it doesn't just have to be a war zone.

According to some reports,

this is also used as a technique

to intimidate opposition groups.

Yes, we have seen it

in places after elections.

For example also

in Kenya and in Guinea.

This was a way to sort of punish

political opponents or the opposition.

This was rather shocking that it

happened in a country like Kenya,

but it has been documented,

well documented.

So, we cannot sort of discount this

from even the risk of it appearing

in a country like Liberia,

which is a post-conflict country.

So, we've warned against this being

used in election campaigns as well.

You talked about the silence

of the crime.

Do you think

that one of the biggest problems is

that it's an unseen crime largely?

Many crimes against humanity

get a lot of coverage,

but clearly this is largely

unseen and uncovered.

And that there's a large amount

of silence about it by the victims

because they feel the stigma?

I think this is the nature of this crime

and this human rights violation

that it leaves women

stigmatised and ashamed.

And impunity reigns.

And that is what we

of course have to change.

This is also

why I think that the debate

after the last incidents in the DRC

actually points

to a change also in the international

reaction to these crimes.

So, the outcry and the condemnation

from so many countries

and different parties

and governments, what have you,

I think meant that we're moving

in another direction.

And my appointment, the fact that

there is a Special Representative

working on this issue, gives us

an opportunity to turn things around.

You said, we have

to prosecute the perpetrators,

otherwise the whole talk about

ending impunity means nothing.

So, how does the UN

move forward on prosecution

and on harmonious prosecution?

Well, you see, in this case,

of course, they have to work

with the national governments

in the DRC and in other places.

They have to make sure that the

government takes the responsibility

to apprehend the perpetrators

and charge them with these crimes.

And this time, I think we should

offer our help and contribution

to finding the perpetrators,

go after them,

have a much more sort of active

posture in this conflict in the DRC.

And also mobilise the full attention

and activity from the government.

I am also hopeful

that the ICC in The Hague now

will bring up

important principal cases.

In terms of punishment, are you

worried that there may end up

being a kind

of mixed message on this?

Well, this is the situation today.

This is how it has worked until now.

Almost nobody has been caught

or sort of brought to justice

for this type of crime.

So, I'm hopeful

that we will turn this around

and that we will go

after the perpetrators this time.

And I think it's important that you

show the whole line of command

that there is a command

responsibility, but also that,

not only foot soldiers in that case

are sort of caught or put to jail,

but also colonels, or you know,

the whole range of commanders.

And I actually believe that the system

of these signals is so strong,

that the minute you start to make

clear that it is unacceptable

and that it will be punished,

both in the military justice

and in sort of civil society and

in the justice system in every country,

that minute we will also

start to be able to end impunity.

And that's about deterrents.

Do you think

there is a role for the UN

in helping the victims

recover from this experience?

Of course there is an important role

to help the victims

and again to speak about it openly.

To tell everybody

that they are not to feel ashamed,

that they should not be

sort of victimised forever.

Women are also the most important

agents for change in their countries

and they have

a very important role to play

in their communities and societies.

And I think we will also

try to clarify, or to explain,

that there is

a so much higher cost for society

when this is done to so many women.

The cost for economic and social

development in these countries.

It will take so much longer, as has

been proven in Liberia, for example.

Okay, final question.

Having read again the UNSCR1325,

how would you rewrite

the resolution today, if you had to?

I think we don't have

to rewrite that much.

I think we should implement

what is the basic idea in 1325,

to make sure

that women are counted on,

that women are being given a voice,

that they are represented,

that they are round the table,

that they are appointed

as mediators and negotiators,

that they are counted as an agent

for change and for peace.

And without women,

you cannot have security,

without the women's security

you cannot build any security.

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