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The U.N. Security Council has unanimously adopted a resolution creating new tools to combat sexual violence against women and children in conflict situations.  U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton chaired Wednesday's meeting, which came on the last day of the United States' presidency of the council. 

Secretary Clinton said that during her July trip to Africa, she met victims of sexual violence in the eastern province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where more than a 1,100 rapes are reported each month.

"The physical and emotional damage to individual women and their families from these attacks cannot be quantified nor can the toll on their societies," said Hillary Clinton. "The dehumanizing nature of sexual violence doesn't just harm a single individual or a single family or even a single village or a single group.  It shreds the fabric that weaves us together as human beings.  It endangers families and communities, erodes social and political stability, and undermines economic progress.  We need to understand that it holds all of us back."

Clinton said that despite two earlier Security Council resolutions, sexual violence in conflict situations has not diminished, and in some cases has escalated.

She noted that new resolution - 1888 - aims to give the U.N. and member states new tools to prevent conflict-related sexual violence and end impunity.

"It [the resolution] calls on the secretary-general to appoint a special representative to lead, coordinate and advocate for efforts to end sexual violence," said Secretary Clinton. "It also calls on the secretary-general to rapidly deploy a team of experts to work with governments to strengthen the rule of law, address impunity and enhance accountability."

The resolution also raises the possibility of sanctions, as it requests Security Council sanctions committees to consider patterns of sexual violence when adopting or targeting sanctions.

Sexual violence against women and girls has been widespread in Africa, where U.N. statistics show that as many as a half a million women were raped during the Rwandan genocide of the 1990s; some 64,000 women were victims of violence during Sierra Leone's 10-year long conflict; and today in Darfur and the Democratic Republic of Congo, thousands more suffer.  But the problem is not limited to Africa.  Rape has been used as a weapon of war in the Balkans, Burma and Sri Lanka.

Human rights groups, which have criticized the United Nations and the Security Council for not doing enough to protect women against violence, welcomed Wednesday's resolution and urged the secretary-general to move swiftly to appoint the new special representative.