“A Shameful Week for the U.S.”: Trump Admin Guts U.N. Resolution to End Rape as Weapon of War

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The Trump administration is under fire after the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution to end rape as a weapon of war on Tuesday that excluded any mention of sexual and reproductive health. The resolution was gutted after the U.S. threatened to veto the measure altogether unless language referencing reproductive health was taken out due to the Trump administration’s belief that the language was code for abortion. The watered-down measure also weakened references to the International Criminal Court, making it harder for women and girls to seek justice. We speak with Jessica Neuwirth, director of the Human Rights Program at Roosevelt House at Hunter College and the director of the Sisterhood Is Global Institute. She sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo protesting the U.S. stance on the Security Council resolution. We also speak with Planned Parenthood President Dr. Leana Wen.

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AMY GOODMAN: The Trump administration is under fire after the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution to end rape as a weapon of war on Tuesday that excluded any mention of sexual and reproductive health. The resolution was gutted after the U.S. threatened to veto the measure altogether unless language referencing reproductive health was taken out due to the Trump administration’s belief the language was code for abortion. The watered-down measure also weakened references to the International Criminal Court, making it harder for women and girls to seek justice.

France’s U.N. ambassador blasted the move, saying, quote, “It is intolerable and incomprehensible that the Security Council is incapable of acknowledging that women and girls who suffered from sexual violence in conflict, and who obviously didn’t choose to become pregnant, should have the right to terminate their pregnancy.”

The resolution was championed by Nobel Peace laureate Nadia Murad, a Yazidi Kurdish human rights activist from Iraq. She was kidnapped by the self-proclaimed Islamic State and held as a sex slave for almost three months.

NADIA MURAD: [translated] We come here today and ask that those perpetrators of genocide be brought to justice. They used Yazidi women as a weapon of war, hence they need to be tried before a special court so that they would be tried for the crimes they committed. Bringing elements of ISIL to justice in the framework of an international tribunal, that tries them for crimes of genocide and sexual violence against women, would send messages to others and prevent such crimes in the future.

AMY GOODMAN: And this is human rights attorney Amal Clooney addressing the Security Council on Tuesday.

AMAL CLOONEY: This is your Nuremberg moment, your chance to stand on the right side of history. You owe it to Nadia and to the thousands of women and girls who must watch ISIS members shave off their beards and go back to their normal lives, while they, the victims, never can.

AMY GOODMAN: The gutted resolution is just the latest in the Trump administration’s hard-line stances on U.N. resolutions. In recent months, they’ve also opposed using the word “gender” in U.N. documents, in what is seen as an attack on transgender rights.

We’re joined now by Jessica Neuwirth, the director of the Human Rights Program at Roosevelt House at Hunter College, the director of the Sisterhood Is Global Institute. She sent a letter Wednesday to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo protesting the U.S. stance on the Security Council resolution on sexual violence in conflict. Jessica Neuwirth has worked as a consultant to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda on issues of sexual violence in several cases, including a landmark decision recognizing rape as a form of genocide.

Jessica Neuwirth, welcome to Democracy Now! So, talk about what happened at the United Nations this past week.

JESSICA NEUWIRTH: Well, I have to say, it was really a shameful week for the United States. Ten years ago, it was the United States that pioneered the resolution that created an office to deal with sexual violence in conflict and a special representative of the secretary-general at a very high level. And the goal of the 10-year anniversary resolution was to strengthen the mechanisms and move the agenda forward. And while in the end it did that, in some important respects, most of the energy, instead of reinforcing political will, was used to battle this assault by the United States and its continuing threat to veto the resolution, in part because of the language “sexual and reproductive health,” because of references to the International Criminal Court—all the mechanisms that actually do strengthen the work of the U.N. and others around the world to stop sexual violence in conflict, and then, of course, on the sexual and reproductive health, I mean, the services that are most needed by women and girls who have been raped in war zones.

AMY GOODMAN: So, can you talk about the origins of this resolution, that originally Germany put forward, right?

JESSICA NEUWIRTH: Germany sponsored the resolution, and, as I said, it was really designed to move the agenda forward. And we’re used to seeing the United States in the U.N. also try to move these agendas forward. And this time around, what we saw was the United States lining up with China and Russia against its allies, its closest allies, like France, Belgium, Germany, the U.K., really blocking efforts to get the resolution passed. And it was only because of the really dramatic compromises that were made that the resolution in the end did pass. And as I said, there are some good things in the resolution that we don’t want to ignore, but it was really shameful, you know, to be an American walking around the halls of the U.N.

AMY GOODMAN: So, the United States forced the U.N. Security Council to remove the words “sexual and reproductive health,” to which people like the French ambassador was outraged, in response saying this is just unacceptable?

JESSICA NEUWIRTH: It was a rare moment for ambassadors to be openly voicing that kind of disappointment. The U.N. is a very diplomatic place. But following the passage of the resolution, not only the French, but the South Africans, the Belgians, the British really spoke very strongly.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me go to the British. The United Kingdom’s special representative on preventing sexual violence in conflict, Tariq Ahmad, addressed the United Nations Security Council Tuesday.

TARIQ AHMAD: We regret that the language on services for survivors of sexual violence recognizing the acute need for those services to include comprehensive reproductive and sexual healthcare, including safe termination of pregnancies, did not meet with all the councilmembers’ support. However, Mr. President, it is important that we maintain effort, our consistent efforts, in this respect, and we maintain that progress that we have made on this issue.

AMY GOODMAN: And this is the French ambassador to the United Nations, François Delattre, also speaking Tuesday.

FRANÇOIS DELATTRE: [translated] In the face of certain threats, I would still like to underscore how essential it is, for France and in the name of victims, to ensure that these victims can have access to sexual and reproductive health. This is an essential point.

AMY GOODMAN: That was the voice of the translator. Jessica Neuwirth?

JESSICA NEUWIRTH: Yes, and the South African ambassador, I would say, went even further and noted the hypocrisy of adopting a survivor-centered approach, which was one of the wonderful things about this resolution, that it really tried to put survivors at the center of all efforts to combat sexual violence in conflict, and yet, at the same time, denying them the services or our right to access services that are so vitally needed. So, I think what he said was that the message to survivors is that consensus in the U.N. is more important than their needs, despite the fact that the U.N. had just said that their needs should be central to any effort.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, this is nonbinding, but talk about the effects of this on the ground—you’ve long worked on these issues of sexual violence—and what it means to address sexual and reproductive health.

JESSICA NEUWIRTH: Well, the most important thing, which is true for all of these resolutions, many of which have really important and great ideas in them, is to see them get implemented. And so, I think how it will play out on the ground is actually going to depend on how much political will there really is to implement these mechanisms that exist, even though we weren’t able to create more mechanisms. I think one of the important things in the new resolution is a greater support for sanctions for perpetrators. So, I think we have to see: Are these perpetrators actually going to be sanctioned? And can we use the existing tools, which, by and large, have not been effective to date, not because they can’t be effective, but because they just haven’t been used properly? So, I think that what the survivors said, or what Dr. Mukwege, who works closely with survivors, and Nadia Murad said—

AMY GOODMAN: And Dr. Mukwege, of course, of the Democratic Republic of Congo, together with Nadia Murad, are both this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winners—well, the award given in 2018. And both attended this hearing.

JESSICA NEUWIRTH: They both attended. They both spoke very strongly on behalf of survivors and the need for justice. And so, I think what matters the most in the end is what happens after. You know, are these just empty words and a battle over words, or can we really move forward with what is in the resolution, honor the survivors and support them in many ways, including with sanctions and efforts to bring the perpetrators to justice?

Another important point in the resolution that’s new is a focus and, for the first time, a mention of children born of rape. Around the world in these conflict zones, there are children born of rape who face many particular problems. And there is a report coming out, thanks to this resolution, that will focus on their needs and their issues.

AMY GOODMAN: And your letter to Secretary of State Pompeo?

JESSICA NEUWIRTH: I wrote to Secretary Pompeo in a moment of tremendous frustration, because it just was—it was just horrifying to watch this destructive effort, which at various points in time seemed like it really could torpedo the entire resolution, which was only saved because of the major compromises that were made, that were so disturbing to so many of us. And so, you know, I just pointed out that the United States had an authorship role in all of this work and that it was such a reversal. And I think we have to remember the context. These are girls and young women who are being raped by ISIS terrorists or Boko Haram, and the first thing they need is reproductive healthcare. And if they become pregnant, the idea that they would be forced to carry to term that pregnancy from rape, caused by rape, has been found by the United Nations and other fora to constitute a form of torture.

AMY GOODMAN: And can’t help but note that President Trump—right?—the world leader who is pushing this forward and taking out references to sexual reproductive health, himself has been accused of sexual harassment and sexual assault by at least 16 women.

JESSICA NEUWIRTH: I think the insensitivity—that’s probably a kind word, the “insensitivity”—of the administration to the needs, in general, of women, even here in this country, but in particular, again, the sort of dire circumstances of these women who are facing the most brutal mass rapes, is really just—it leaves me speechless.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you so much for being with us. Last question. You were sitting right behind Nadia Murad at the U.N. Security Council hearing. The Murad rule that the U.K. is expected to launch, the Murad Code?

JESSICA NEUWIRTH: The U.K. has been a real leader in efforts to raise attention and awareness to the issue of sexual violence in conflict and to come up with various codes of conduct and remedial mechanisms. So, I think that effort will be continuing. There’s a big conference later this year.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we will certainly cover that. Jessica Neuwirth, I want to thank you for being with us, director of the Human Rights Program at Roosevelt House, Hunter College, also the director of Sisterhood Is Global Institute, and sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo protesting the U.S. stance on the Security Council resolution on sexual violence in conflict. Jessica Neuwirth has worked as a consultant to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda on issues of sexual violence in several cases. I want to thank you so much for being with us.

When we come back, we’re going to get response from Dr. Leana Wen, who is the new president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and also talk with her about the Title X rulings that have come down this week. We’ll talk about the gag rule and the global gag rule. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: “Blackbird” by Nina Simone. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we turn to the new president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Dr. Leana Wen. She was just honored by Time magazine this week as one of Time 100, the most influential people of 2019.

Before we talk about Title X, I wanted to get your response, Dr. Wen, to what just took place at the U.N. Security Council, a resolution that was passed 13 to 0 on sexual violence against women, rape against people in war zones, but the U.S. gutting that resolution, taking out any reference to sexual and reproductive health.

DR. LEANA WEN: I have treated women who were infected with HIV as a result of rape during the war. I’ve helped women who were the victims of sexual torture, with clubs and bayonets, and had fistulas and required lifesaving support. What we need to do for these women who are victims of war and horrific situations is to provide them with the care that they need. And excluding sexual and reproductive healthcare undermines their ability to get that care.

It’s time for us, as the U.S., to value women’s rights as human rights. And what this Trump-Pence administration has consistently shown, globally and in the U.S., is that they do not value women’s lives. And the policies that they are championing are, frankly, oppressive. They counter best practices when it comes to public health. And frankly, they are misogynistic.

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