Thursday, June 22, 2006

Rape and sexual violence in conflict appear to be worsening and very little is being done to tackle the problem

BBC News:

The conference organiser, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), wants a UN declaration and extra funding.

Delegates from 14 conflict-affected countries, half from Africa, are attending the conference in Brussels.

The UNFPA says that, while sexual violence in wartime is not new, there is evidence it is becoming more common.

The trend towards more civil and regional conflicts means civilians are targeted more than ever before, the organisation says.

Women and children are vulnerable, not just during armed attacks, but also in displacement camps, during aid distribution and even after conflict has officially ended.

"Everybody in the world knows that sexual violence, especially in war situations, is wrong," Thoraya Obaid, the UNFPA's executive director, said.

"But very little effort is being directed either to stop it or to provide support to women who are facing this kind of a crime in their own countries."

A UN report prepared for the meeting found that systematic rape was a prominent feature of the conflicts in Bosnia-Hergovina, DR Congo, East Timor and Haiti, and is ongoing in the Darfur region of Sudan.

No-one knows exactly how many women have been attacked in the chaos of Darfur, the BBC's David Loyn says from the conference.

But rape has been used there as a weapon of war to impose the will of one people on another - as it was in previous conflicts such as those in Bosnia-Hercegovina and Rwanda, he says.

In Rwanda, officials estimate that 60,000 women were raped during the 1994 conflict, two-thirds of whom have been infected with HIV/Aids, the UNFPA believes.

In Bosnia, the figure is put at around 40,000.

The conference has already heard testimony from the DR Congo, where sex with very young children has become commonplace in the mistaken belief it can cure Aids.

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