I was disconcerted to read in the Sunday Times this weekend that South Africa has led an effort in the UN General Assembly to block a draft resolution condemning states that use rape as a weapon of war and intimidation.
This is very odd, particularly in view of the fact that one of the most important decisions taken at the UN Women’s Conference in 1995 in Beijing was that rape in a conflict or war situation should be treated as a war crime.
I was part of the 25-woman government delegation headed by our current Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, and we were at the forefront of efforts to get this point written into the conference declaration. I had always believed that through the 1995 Beijing Declaration, rape as a war crime had become part of the UN legal approach.
It is all the more surprising, then, that South Africa’s UN ambassador, Dumisani Kumalo, is insisting instead on wording that recommends a general condemnation of all forms of rape. This is well and good, but perhaps he is unaware of our own foreign minister’s role in Beijing in 1995 in getting rape in a war situation classified as a war crime as reflected in the Beijing Declaration.
The US-drafted resolution is apparently designed to pressure governments such as Sudan and Myanmar to stop using rape to intimidate dissenters. The fact that it is a US-sponsored resolution seems to be Kumalo’s main problem with it.
South Africa’s objection to the resolution has dismayed a number of international observers, including the UN representative of Human Rights Watch and the US assistant secretary of state for international organisation affairs.
The Beijing Declaration establishing rape in conflict situations as a war crime was regarded as a great step forward in gender terms and by women’s groups around the world, and it would indeed be a sad day if South Africa should be party to any move to diminish that achievement.