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US Stance at UN a Backward Step on Women’s Rights

Trump Administration Threats to Veto Security Council Resolution on Sexual Violence

Members of the Security Council vote on a resolution concerning sexual violence during a Security Council meeting at United Nations headquarters, Tuesday, April 23, 2019. © 2019 AP Photo/Seth Wenig
(New York) – The United States’ threat to veto a United Nations Security Council resolution on sexual violence in conflict because it mentioned women’s reproductive health services is another deeply cynical and cruel step in its assault on women’s rights in US foreign policy, Human Rights Watch said today.

“The United States demonstrated that it is willing to up the ante on its anti-choice fight and was willing to sacrifice a global resolution seeking to ensure greater accountability for women and girls raped in war,” said Amanda Klasing, acting women’s rights co-director at Human Rights Watch. “The Trump administration’s extreme position on sexual and reproductive health and rights is pervading all aspects of its foreign policy in ways that escalates a global erosion of women’s human rights.”

The Security Council adopted Resolution 1325 in 2000, which focused on women, peace, and security. It called on all UN member states and parties to an armed conflict to “take special measures to protect women and girls from gender-based violence, particularly rape and other forms of sexual abuse, and all other forms of violence in situations of armed conflict.” It also called to end impunity for and prosecute perpetrators of crimes against humanity and war crimes, “including those relating to sexual violence and other violence against women and girls.” The Security Council has periodically strengthened its calls on state action through several resolutions which include commitments by all parties to time-bound measures for combating sexual violence.

On April 23, 2019, the Security Council held an open debate on conflict-related sexual violence. In the weeks leading up to the meeting, Germany led a draft resolution to strengthen the international response to the use of rape in war. In the final stages of negotiations around the text, the US threatened to veto the resolution unless it completely removed references to sexual and reproductive health. Even after a compromise was reached – one that omitted the language around sexual and reproductive health, but referenced a previous resolution that does – the US doubled down and refused to accept any language that recognized that victims of rape in war should have access to sexual and reproductive health services. The Trump administration believes this implies access to abortion. The resolution was ultimately adopted without any language on access, a victory for the Trump administration and a major blow to the global women’s rights movement.

This comes after a long line of actions by the Trump administration to actively undermine sexual and reproductive rights abroad and at home. For the second year in a row, the US State Department issued its annual human rights report, excising the section that previously reported on women’s reproductive rights, including rates of preventable maternal deaths and access to contraception.

At the UN Commission on the Status of Women meeting this March, the US played a disruptive role, trying to eliminate the use of the word gender and distanced itself from the global consensus document on women’s sexual and reproductive health that has been in place for 20 years.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo doubled down last month on Trump’s massive expansion of a restrictive policy known as the global gag rule, which will make it even harder for grassroots organizations to provide specialized health services to marginalized women and girls. This says nothing of the litany of harmful actions taken against women’s rights at home, including issuing a new regulation that would impose a type of gag rule on healthcare providers that offer services through federal family planning funds.

“After two years of relentless attacks on reproductive rights, the US’ latest antics at the UN Security Council may be no surprise,” Klasing said. “But the world cannot become accustomed to the fact that the Trump administration wants to deny survivors of sexual violence in conflict access to healthcare and is willing to pressure countries into backtracking on global agreements in an effort to advance its extreme discriminatory views on sexual and reproductive rights.”

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