A group of women sit outside of a police station at the Kibati camp for internally displaced people outside Goma, eastern Congo.

© 2008 Reuters

(New York) - The United Nations Security Council resolution up for a vote today to create a senior coordinator to address how armed conflict affects women around the globe is a vital step toward more consistent UN action on the issue, Human Rights Watch said today.

The decision to create the position, which will focus initially on ending sexual violence during and after armed conflict, comes nine years after the Security Council pledged a comprehensive response on peace and security issues for women.

"While the UN spent years debating, untold thousands of girls and women around the world have suffered ruined bodies and ruined lives," said Marianne Mollmann, women's rights advocate at Human Rights Watch. "We hope this new position will finally generate the leadership to help the UN act swiftly and coherently to halt sexual violence in wartime."

The Security Council resolution, expected to be adopted by consensus at a session chaired by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, sets up a system of technical experts to work with the new senior coordinator and to support the UN country teams and peacekeeping missions as they address sexual violence.

It asks the UN secretary-general to urgently analyze gaps in how the UN system responds to sexual violence so that the Security Council can address them. Such gaps include a lack of expertise on sexual violence and gender issues at the UN mission level and at headquarters, and a lack of support for building participation by women into procedures for peace talks.

"Amazingly, even as the UN system's failure to address sexual violence in conflict has become increasingly obvious, no one has sat down to look at just where things fall down," said Mollmann. "This resolution asks the UN secretary-general to provide a much clearer picture of what is wrong, an absolutely necessary step for fixing it."

Since the adoption of resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security in 2000, the Security Council has recognized that women and girls experience conflict and post-conflict differently than men and boys, and that this is relevant to international peace and security. In particular, the council has noted that combatants tend to target women and girls for specific types of violence, and that peace processes are more comprehensive when women participate on an equal footing with men.

Human Rights Watch and other commentators have repeatedly criticized the Security Council and the UN system as a whole for not doing enough to protect women against violence. Specifically, UN peacekeeping procedures have failed to implement the council's vision expressed in the 2000 resolution that women and men should be equal partners in post-conflict negotiations and rebuilding processes. Over the past few years, nongovernmental organizations around the globe have rallied around a call for a senior UN post to spearhead these actions.

"The Security Council finally has responded to the call from women around the world to designate responsibility for its actions on women and girls," said Mollmann. "The UN secretary-general needs to move decisively to make an appointment for this post. Women in the midst of conflict should not be made to wait any longer."