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UN Prosecutor Urges End to Impunity for Wartime Sex Crimes

The chief prosecutor for the Yugoslavia war crimes tribunal has marked International Women's Day with a call to end impunity for wartime sexual violence. VOA's Peter Heinlein reports prosecutor Carla del Ponte's spoke during ceremonies at U.N. headquarters in New York.

In an impassioned speech to a conference on the status of women, the Swiss prosecutor said part of the legacy of the Yugoslavia Tribunal will be its condemnation of gender-based wartime violence. She noted the 34-year sentence handed down to one man convicted of rape in Bosnia, and said more such convictions are coming.

The theme of International Women's Day observances is 'ending impunity for discrimination and violence against girls and women'.

But Prosecutor del Ponte said her experience in prosecuting wartime sex crimes has revealed insensitivity to victims.

"For example, one of the key barriers to women seeking justice for violent crimes in common law countries is the retraumatization that so often accompanies cross-examination in an adversarial system," she said. "We have had cases where judges have been observed laughing during sexual violence witness testimony."

Among a list of dignitaries addressing the U.N. Women's Day observance such violence, yet the reality is that too often it is tolerated under the fallacious cover of cultural practices and norms, within the walls of the home," he said.

"Or it is used as a weapon in armed conflict, condoned through tacit silence and passivity by the State and the law enforcement community," he added.

On the eve of Women's Day, the U.N. Security Council called for an end to "pervasive violence" against women during conflict, and demanded punishment for perpetrators.

A Council statement emphasized governments' responsibilities to put an end to impunity and prosecute those responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, including those relating to sexual and other violence against women and girls."

The statement also urged Secretary-General Ban to appoint more women to posts as senior envoys to peacekeeping missions and other field operations in the developing world, especially in non-traditional roles such as military observer and civilian police units.