A new study commissioned by the United Nations Development Fund for Women finds violence against women is widespread in areas of conflict. U.N. peacekeeping troops themselves contribute to the grim statistics. 24-year-old Johanna tells how she escaped rebel fighting in Sierra Leone in 1997. She found refuge as a domestic worker but was repeatedly raped by her employer, who threatened to kill her if she informed authorities of the crime.
Johanna's story is one of many documented in the new report that followed a year of research in fourteen nations, including Bosnia, Colombia, East Timor, Cambodia, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone.
Independent expert, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is a former presidential candidate in Liberia who also serves on the African Unity Panel investigating the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, which also brought the rape of as many as 500,000 women.
She said that although the circumstances differ, horrific crimes committed against women in areas of conflict are very much the same. "Their experiences are real. We were very shocked ourselves. We were not prepared for the intensity of the suffering to which women are subjected in times of conflict," she said.
Ms. Johnson Sirleaf said that, despite the hardships they endure, women make remarkable contributions to rebuilding communities struggling to overcome violence and war.
The report notes that some progress has been made by the United Nations and non-governmental organizations in improving the health and security by women. But it says perpetrators of crimes against women are rarely brought to justice.
Ms. Johnson Sirleaf said the report also documents how peace-keepers from several countries may have engaged in sexual misconduct and spread AIDS and HIV. "I hope that governments that contribute to peacekeeping forces, having read the report, will do something about ensuring that their troops will abide by the court of conduct that has been prepared to guide troops that serve in this capacity," she said. "We also hope that governments will act quickly to nominate women to the secretary-general for positions so we can see the number of women representatives increase."
The report calls on the United Nations to increase the role of women in international peacekeeping.