U.N. says women's rights still abused at war and peace activities

Five years after a landmark U.N. resolution committed governments to protect women from the abuses of war, the Security Council condemned the continuing sexual exploitation and violence against women. A presidential statement adopted at the end of a daylong council meeting on Thursday also expressed deep concern at the continuing lack of representation of women in peace negotiations and peace-building activities.

"The Security Council believes that more must be done in order to achieve the greater participation and effective contribution of women at the negotiating table and in developing and implementing post-conflict strategies and programs," said the statement read by Romania's U.N. Ambassador Mihnea Motoc.

At the meeting, several speakers said women remain a largely untapped resource when it comes to peace-building, and sexual exploitation continues to occur at "shameful" levels.

Women's valuable role in peace processes at every level of society is more widely recognized than it was five years ago, said U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Louise Frechette. But "women are still not adequately represented at the negotiating table, the cabinet table or the conference table."

Frechette and others at the debate also highlighted the lingering problem of sexual exploitation of women and girls, in particular alleged abuses by U.N. personnel and peacekeepers.

U.N. peacekeeping chief Jean-Marie Guehenno called the revelation of such abuses in recent years "damning and shameful."

"This problem should be a wake-up call for all of us to attach even more importance to incorporating a gender perspective in our work," he said.

A report released October 18 by Refugees International accused U.N. peacekeepers of engaging in sexual misconduct despite the global body's zero tolerance policy, and of erecting a "wall of silence" to protect themselves from outside criticism, the AP says.

The council statement reiterated its strong condemnation of sexual misconduct by U.N. peacekeepers and condemned "sexual and other forms of violence against women, including trafficking."

It called on all parties involved in conflicts "to ensure full and effective protection of women and emphasizes the necessity to end impunity of those responsible for gender-based violence."

Many participants at the meeting also noted positive developments at the grass roots level in countries such as Afghanistan and Burundi, where recent elections and constitutional referenda have furthered women's rights.

On photo: U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Louise Frechette.