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UN Urges Action to Stop Sexual Violence Against Women, Girls

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the Security Council Friday to authorize the establishment of an independent commission of inquiry in an effort to stop sexual violence against women and girls, particularly in conflict-ridden parts of Africa.

Mr. Ban told the 15-member council that parties to armed conflict continue with impunity to deliberately target civilians through acts of sexual violence.

"Parties to armed conflict use sexual violence with efficient brutality. Like a grenade or a gun, sexual violence is part of their arsenal to pursue military, political, social and economic aims," he said.

He said that in some countries the sexual violence continues even after the guns go silent.

"In Burundi, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the fighting may have ended, but sexual violence persists on a very serious scale," he added.

Mr. Ban urged the Security Council to immediately authorize the establishment of an independent commission of inquiry. It would be tasked to investigate and report on violations of international human rights laws in on-going conflict situations in Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sudan -- where both rebels and domestic security forces have been accused of perpetrating sexual violence against civilians on a big scale.

Human rights groups have also urged the secretary-general to create a high-level U.N. post on women and armed conflict, an option he told the Council he is considering.

U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice supported Mr. Ban's recommendations. She also suggested the possibility of sending technical assistance teams to affected countries to help develop the capacity to combat sexual violence in conflict zones. But she said the top priority must be ending impunity.

"We need to ensure that rapists and other perpetrators of sexual violence are identified and punished. We need sustained efforts to prevent new acts of sexual violence, including by increasing human rights training and vetting for members of domestic security forces," Rice said. "We also need quality and accessible treatment for the survivors of rape and abuse," she said.

Last year, the Security Council adopted resolution 1820, which demands that all parties to armed conflict immediately cease all acts of sexual violence against civilians. The resolution also puts possible perpetrators on notice that rape and other forms of sexual violence can constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity -- which carry stiff penalties.