The Convention on the Elimination of Violence against Women is still missing, but progress on other dimensions of this issue has taken place rapidly since the early 1990s and also as part of implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action. The UN Security Council has expressed its views strongly and effectively on this issue for the first time in its history. Resolutions and decisions of the Security Council are strong indications of the change in attitudes: Violence against women is no longer an issue of private life, but an issue of security, human rights and war crimes.
In 1992 the Security Council condemned strongly “the acts of unspeakable brutality of the massive, organized and systematic detention and rape of women in Bosnia and Herzegovina.” In May 1993 the Security Council decided to establish an International War Crimes Tribunal to deal with “serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in the territory of the former Yugoslavia” after January 1991. The mandate of this tribunal includes the “massive, organized and systematic detention and rape of women.” This implies that rape and violence against women in war are now recognized as war crimes: the aim for which women's peace movements had worked for years.
Later, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda broke new ground in the area of jurisprudence by convicting individuals of rape as an instrument of genocide, a form of torture and a crime against humanity. The Rome Statute of the new International Criminal Court (ICC) takes gender concerns into account in their definition of crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. In January 2002 the statute of the Special Court for Sierra Leone includes rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy and any other form of sexual violence among the constituent elements of crimes against humanity. The Special Court decided in 2004 that even forced marriage would be prosecuted as an “inhuman act;' i.e. a crime against humanity (E/CN.6/2005/2)
A further sign of progress is that the negotiation table of the Security Council has been opened to women's voices. In October 2000 a coalition of women in five peace organizations — Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, International Alert, Amnesty International, Women's Commission for Women Refugees and Girls, and the Hague Appeal for Peace — joined with UNIFEM to draft a resolution that calls for the protection of women and girls during armed conflicts, for gender sensitivity in all UN missions, including peacekeeping, and for women to equally participate at all negotiation tables.
As a result, Resolution 1325 on “Women, Peace and Security” was unanimously passed by the Security Council on 31 October 2000. Resolution 1325 calls for integration of women in all conflict resolution processes as well as actions for resettlement, rehabilitation and post-conflict reconstruction. It also recommends special training for all peace keeping personnel on the protection, special needs and human rights of women and children in conflict situations
It is particularly important that this kind of resolution was adopted by the Security Council because its resolutions are binding to Member States contrary to the other conferences and meetings, whose resolutions are only recommendations. Since October 2000, the Security Council has held several open debates to discuss progress and challenge to implementation. Four presidential statements (in 2001, 2002, 2004 and 2005) recognized the link between peace and gender equality and called for action to implement the resolution by those concerned and for an end to the culture of impunity. Shortly after the Resolution was adopted, Noeleen Heyzer, Executive Director of UNIFEM, appointed Elisabeth Rehn and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf “to conduct an independent assessment of women, war and peace so that people throughout the world will know and understand not only what women have suffered but what they have contributed for building peace and reconstruction.” The report was published in 2002 and has received a lot attention around the world (UNIFEM, 2002, www.unifem.org/resources/item_detail.php?ProductlD= 17).
During the five-year anniversary debate of Resolution 1325 held in October 2005, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan presented his UN system-wide action plan for implementing resolution 1325 (S/2005/636), structured around 12 areas of action: conflict prevention and early warning; peacemaking and peace building; peace keeping operations; humanitarian response; post-conflict reconstruction and rehabilitation; disarmament, demobilization and reintegration; preventing and responding to gender-based violence in armed conflict; preventing and responding to sexual exploitation and abuse by UN staff, related personnel and UN partners; gender balance; coordination and partnership; monitoring and reporting; and financial resources (www.un.org/Docs/sc/sgrep05.htm).
The action plan will be used by UN entities to formulate concrete strategies, actions and programmes to advance the role of women in peace and security areas; ensure more efficient support to Member States and other actors in national and regional level implementation of Resolution 1325; strengthen the commitment and accountability of the UN system at the highest levels; and enhance inter-agency cooperation.
Women around the world have eagerly used the resolution in connection with present conflicts in their respective hemispheres. It has been translated into many languages and women's groups are very active in demanding that governments implement the resolution in training of personnel for peacekeeping and crises management.
Women in Africa have been the first ones to sit at the negotiation tables for the resolution of conflicts and implementation of peace agreements in their continent.