Amal Clooney: Prosecute Islamic State extremists for rape

April 23, 2019 GMT
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While Nadia Murad Basee Taha, right, listens, Amal Clooney speaks during a Security Council meeting on sexual violence at United Nations headquarters, Tuesday, April 23, 2019. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
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While Nadia Murad Basee Taha, right, listens, Amal Clooney speaks during a Security Council meeting on sexual violence at United Nations headquarters, Tuesday, April 23, 2019. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Human rights lawyer Amal Clooney on Tuesday demanded justice for victims of an “epidemic of sexual violence” in conflicts, especially rapes and other abuses perpetrated by Islamic State extremists in Iraq and Syria.

The rights activist told the Security Council that if the U.N.’s most powerful body cannot prevent the prevalence of sexual violence in wars all over the world, “then at least it must punish it” and make justice a priority.

Clooney, who is married to actor George Clooney, addressed the council along with Nobel Peace Prize laureates Nadia Murad and Dr. Denis Mukwege to spotlight the need to prosecute perpetrators and help survivors.

But the resolution adopted by the council after they spoke was watered down to win approval, and while it made some advances it failed to take the significant actions they urged.

The resolution eliminated long-used language on providing “sexual and reproductive health care” to survivors of rape and abuse to avert a veto from the Trump administration. And it eliminated a positive reference to the International Criminal Court’s work in prosecuting alleged perpetrators of sexual violence in conflict.

French Ambassador Francois Delattre told the council after the vote that eliminating the reference to sexual and reproductive health of victims of sexual violence “is unacceptable and undermines the dignity of women.”

“We are worried that the threat of veto was used to question 25 years of advances in this area,” Delattre said. “It is intolerable and incomprehensible that the Security Council is incapable of acknowledging that these women and girls who suffer from sexual violence in conflict, and who obviously didn’t choose to become pregnant, should have the rights to terminate their pregnancy.”

The vote on the German-drafted resolution was 13-0, with Russia and China abstaining.

Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said Moscow opposes sexual violence and demands “the elimination of this loathsome war crime.” But Russia abstained because the resolution gives new powers to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and other U.N. officials and bodies, he said.

The resolution expresses the council’s deep concern at “the slow progress” in addressing and eliminating sexual violence in conflicts, declaring that these acts often occur with impunity, “and in some situations have become systematic and widespread, reaching appalling levels of brutality.”

It calls for governments to ensure that survivors of sexual violence “receive the care required by their specific needs and without any discrimination.” It says victims should have access “to national relief and reparations programs, as well as health care, psycho-social care, safe shelter, livelihood support and legal aid.”

German Ambassador Christoph Heusgen said the resolution his nation introduced makes “considerable progress” by concentrating on accountability and survivors and by “putting sanctions much more in the center of actions.”

But, he added, “we didn’t achieve everything.”

Heusgen said Amal Clooney and the two Nobel laureates told him to “push ahead” with the resolution without a reference to “sexual and reproductive rights.” He noted the resolution does refer to a 2013 resolution in which those rights are mentioned — and because of that the rights remain international law.

Clooney called the resolution “a welcome step forward” but said “we must go further.”

She challenged the Security Council to prosecute Islamic State militants just as the victorious Allies prosecuted Nazi criminals after World War II at the Nuremberg trials.

“This is your Nuremberg moment,” she said.

Clooney is the legal counsel to Murad and other members of Syria’s Yazidi minority who were sexually abused by IS extremists. She said Murad has spoken of only one fear — that IS militants “will just shave off their beards and go back to their lives; that there will be no justice.”

“Nadia has been given many honors ... but she would trade her Nobel Peace Prize in a heartbeat for what she really wants: the chance to face, in a court of law, those who murdered her mother and her brothers, and those who brutally and repeatedly raped her,” Clooney said.

Murad told the council that “so far not a single person was tried for sexual enslavement crimes against Yazidis” and that more than 350,000 Yazidis — 80 percent of the Yazidi population in Iraq — are still in displacement camps.

“We come to the U.N.,” she said. “We deliver statements, but no practical steps are taken that include reconstruction or bringing the perpetrators to justice, or returning the victims and displaced to their homes.”

Mukwege, a Congolese doctor who has worked to end the use of rape and sexual violence as weapons of war, said that “victims not only have the right to quality care but also to truth and justice.”

“Survivors’ testimonies are living proof we cannot remain indifferent to their cries,” Mukwege said.