Wednesday 1 July 2015

We can stop rape as a weapon of war

Margot Wallstrom
Interview with Margot Wallstrom on her role as UN Special Representative in 2012. Wallstrom is now the Swedish foreign minister

While some members of the last Commission have courted controversy with their employment, former Commissioner Margot Wallstrom has become the UN Special Representative on sexual violence in conflict.

How does working for the UN compare with being in the Commission?

Well it's a bureaucracy there as well. Everything in the Commission is in place, so you have everything. In the Un, it was new, so I had to do everything myself, there was nothing, from finding an office to recruiting a team, negotiating the budget, everything.

Isn't that an advantage?

Yes, sure! Because I know when I can disregard something. I'm not impressed and this is why I'm not getting into turf wars with different bodies. They all fight for their own space and want to be visible, credited. I'm concentrating on getting these issues before the Security council.

There are a large number of places where sexual violence, as a part of conflict, is a serious problem. How are you going to approach this?

I've decided to stay to the mandate, which is rather narrow, to avoid turf battles, but also to stay as close as possible to the agenda of the Security Council. We will choose some countries, including some outside of Africa, because this is a global problem.

Looking at the nations involved, the use of rape in war seems to be associated with prolonged conflicts, for example Liberia, Darfur etc. Why has the issue become such a feature of these conflicts?

You can say that it has been part of history, from the Trojan War to the nuclear age. It has been seen as somehow inevitable element of warfare, either as a reward or part of looting, but we have noticed that it is not always the case, there are conflicts where sexual violence is not commanded, where it is not widespread or systematic. In the Middle East or Afghanistan, for instance. We want to study this to see why some conflicts do not feature such crimes and then what we can do.

Stopping impunity is important because there will be fewer cases if people think they may face justice

Yes. And if they see that not only the foot soldiers are punished, but going all the way up the chain of command. That is why it is important that the International Criminal court bring cases where this has been commanded, so the Commanders will be punished and take responsibility for their actions and those of their soldiers.

The problem is rape is very hard to prosecute, even in Europe. If it is so hard for us to prosecute...

But today it is a crime against humanity and this is how it has to be followed up and we have set up tribunals and we do have successful examples, so these people are being accused and more and more women are coming forward. They are willing to bring their cases to the courts and the ICC is prosecuting.

Your argument that mass rape in war is wrong, must be the least controversial campaign...

Yes, but a lot of people think that it is inevitable, that it has always been part of war and that it's not possible to stop it. When I started this is what I heard every day. "this is so complex," "this is so tough". I started to describe it like that myself, but one day, I decided that I would never again describe this as being so difficult. If we can ban cluster bombs, if we can use rational arguments against these weapons, then it is possible to stop sexual violence in war and conflict, because it is commanded, and we must punish the perpetrators, up to the highest level and make sure that this is not in the military culture.

Because this is so central to UN conventions...

Exactly, we must say that you can never build peace if you do this to women. Those who are victorious in a battle will never be able to steer a country or a people where this has been done. It will be so much more difficult.

How are you doing for resources?

We have a multi-donor trust fund that is managed by UN Action, a coalition of 13 UN agencies and we will be able to raise more funds and I am presenting the budget for my team tomorrow. I am not overly worried about money as I think there is a willingness from member states to help.

It's been a decade since the landmark resolution on sexual violence was passed. They seem to be more interested in measuring the problem, rather than combatting it.

I think so, maybe that's unfair, but with all the peacekeeping operations there are lessons to learn and we have recently learned that in today's wars you have to try harder to protect civilians, which is part of what we do and you can't be gender blind about this. You need to ask about the women, what kind of protection do they need? you can't just talk about civilians.

In a lot of these long running conflicts, you don't have two armies facing each other, but various sides who attack villages and they never fight each other.

They come out in the night and attack a village, by looting it and raping the women, because this is a good way to install fear and they think the villagers will fear them and give them what they want. We can end this. we can stop this.

You're going to be meeting your old boss?

Yes I am seeing President Barroso

What can the EU do to help?

The EU can work with the UN, we have some good progammes already and I would like a counterpart in the EU.

Part of the EAS?

That's for the EU to decide, but it would put it close to the security policy agenda, where it would appear to be its most natural place.

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