Friday, November 5, 2010

An Anniversary

October 31st was the 10th anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 1325. It was the first UN resolution to acknowledge how women were affected by conflict and the critical role they must play toward making the peace. The resolution initiated a decade of recognition of and remedies for the violence inflicted upon women during warfare. No more is rape an acceptable consequence of war.

No one was more outspoken in its support than US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who traveled to the UN to present American support for the resolution. Under her watch, Congress reintrouced the International Violence Against Women Act on February 4th, 2010. It makes combating gender-based violence a "strategic foreign policy imperative" of the United States. The act begins to establish inter-agency mechanisms for assisting victims of international violence and bringing their perpetrators to justice. It may be voted on during the upcoming Lame Duck session.

Bosnia and the Congo are the recent graphic examples of how women suffer when conflict break out. Their modern, documented antecedent was Imperial Japan’s Comfort Women system during the Pacific War in the middle of the 20th century. Women of all ethnicities were forced into sexual slavery and trafficked to serve the needs of Japan’s military, as well as colonial government and industry representatives.

Often, as is common in today’s conflicts, the Japanese military used rape was used as an instrument of warfare and subjugation. Whether the rape was one of opportunity or provision, it was always one of power. Japan’s soldiers and sailors raped because they could.

UNSC Res 1325 is about returning power to the women abused. The violence inflicted upon women and children in warfare is now recognized as unacceptable and its perpetrators no longer can operate with impunity. Although the Comfort Women had no remedies and no voice, their tragedy helped make the world aware of how unjustly sexual violence affects women and societies.

Sexual abuse and violence by the Japanese military was prevalent throughout Asia during the Pacific War. Women and girls were not the only victims. The Comfort women remain one the great unresolved history issues of the WWII. And Asian governments, especially Korea and China, use it legacy to remind Japan of its moral obligations.

Thus, it was a surprise that so few Asian countries gave their vocal support to the anniversary of UNSC Res 1325. Missing were South Korea, North Korea, Thailand, Singapore, Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, and Mongolia. Only Australia had its Foreign Minister deliver special remarks and these were not at the UN. Otherwise, just the country representatives to the UN or lower presented their national statements of support. 

Malaysia and South Korea did what Japan did in 2008 at the adoption of UNSC Resolution 1820, which noted that “rape and other forms of sexual violence can constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity or a constitutive act with respect to genocide.” Its national representative showed support through his capability as head of a UN organization and not his country.

In this case of 1325, Malaysia’s UN delegate also headed the UN Economic and Social Commission. South Korea probably hoped that the strong support given by Ban Ki Moon, the UN Secretary-General, 1325 was sufficient.

It was not. It was especially not sufficient for a country that says it champions the Comfort Women cause.

For perspective, on June 19, 2008, the UN Security Council adopted unanimously the landmark resolution 1820 (2008) after a day-long ministerial on “Women, Peace and Security.” Then US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice noted that there had long been dispute about whether sexual violence against women in conflict was an issue the Council was authorized to address.

“I am proud that, today, we respond to that lingering question with a resounding ‘yes!’” she said, adding that the world body was acknowledging that such violence was indeed a security concern. “We affirm that sexual violence profoundly affects not only the health and safety of women, but the economic and social stability of their nations,” she said.

Japan, interestingly, did not as other G-7 countries offer a statement in support of the resolution. Instead, its UN Representative Ambassador Yukio Takasu as Chairperson of the UN Peacebuilding Commission gave a statement commending the leadership of the UN for the debate at the meeting.

The Government of Japan, then led by Yasuo Fukuda, certainly noted this resolution’s implications for its long-festering Comfort Women problem. However, even in the face of this dramatic, international perceptual change that women are not just merely part of war’s collateral damage and that violence against women is among the most pervasive and insidious human rights violations, Japan remained equivocal.

In 2010, the Japanese government supported 1325 with a statement from the Makiko Kikuta, Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs who affirmed the essence of Council resolution. She said peace could not be achieved without the participation of women, yet women and children remained the principal victims of every conflict. The international community must comprehensively address prevention, participation, protection and recovery, she said, adding that doing so would, among other things, enable identification of what was needed to make the objectives of the resolution a reality. She urged the formulation of a country-specific strategy with a gender perspective when implementing peacebuilding activities.

This DPJ government's show of support, which was not merely a MOFA bureaucratic statement, is a long way from the LDP’s distancing itself from the issue in 2008. The DPJ showed an unusual sensitivity to American policy priorities. Whereas the US has long championed women’s human rights, Japan as demonstrated in 2008 was not always an enthusiastic supporter.

If the US Congress fails to pass the International Violence Against Women Act during the upcoming Lame Duck session, Asian motivation to support 1325, 1820, and further measures will be lessened and American moral leadership seriously undermined. There is more at stake than funding a foreign aid budget.


November 25th - International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women 

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