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International Community Condemns Sexual Violence Against Women

More than 60 nations came together at the U.N. Security Council Thursday to condemn sexual violence against women as a weapon of war. The United States holds the rotating presidency of the council this month, and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice chaired the special session. From United Nation's headquarters in New York, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more.

Secretary Rice said for several years there has been a debate about whether the Security Council is the appropriate forum to address the issue.

"This world body now acknowledges that sexual violence in conflict zones is indeed a security concern," she said. "We affirm that sexual violence profoundly affects not only the health and safety of women, but the economic and social stability of their nations."

At the end of the daylong debate, the council is expected to unanimously adopt a resolution demanding that parties to armed conflicts immediately stop all acts of sexual violence against civilians.

"Today's resolution establishes a mechanism for bringing these atrocities to light," she added. "Specifically, the resolution requests that the Secretary-General prepare an action plan for collecting information on the use of sexual violence in situations of armed conflict and then reporting that information periodically to the Council."

Rice and others expressed concern about the widespread use of rape in such conflict zones as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Sudan. And she noted that there have been reports of sexual exploitation and abuse by some U.N. peacekeepers, as well as by the staff at the U.N. Mission in Liberia.

The United Nations has worked to tackle that problem, and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the meeting that the U.N. is committed to a zero-tolerance policy against sexual exploitation by its personnel.

He went on to say that violence against women has reached pandemic proportions in some societies attempting to recover from conflict, and responding to it requires leadership at the top level.

"We must do far more to involve women in conflict prevention, peace negotiations and recovery after the guns fall silent," he said.

Rape has been documented in many armed conflicts across the globe, including in Bosnia, Rwanda, Cambodia, Haiti, Liberia and Uganda. Many victims are often ostracized by their family or community. Others find themselves infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

In addition to rape, women are also subject to forced prostitution during times of war, trading their bodies for food, shelter and protection, and some are recruited as child soldiers.