Barrister Amal Clooney with client and Nobel laureate Nadia Murad

At the UN, the Trump Administration Seeks to Roll Back Access to Sexual and Reproductive Health Care for Victims of Sexual Violence in Conflict

Two Nobel Peace Prize laureates and one of the world’s highest profile human rights lawyers were on hand at the Security Council on Tuesday for what was supposed to be a key meeting on ending sexual violence in conflict.

Amal Clooney was joined by 2018 Nobel Peace Prize laureates Nadia Murad, a Yazidi rape victim-turned-advocate, and Dr. Denis Mukwege, a Congolese gynecologist who specializes in treating victims of rape in conflict. The centerpiece of the meeting, though, was a resolution drafted by Germany to demonstrate the Security Council’s determination to reduce sexual violence in conflict and end rape as a weapon of war.

The Security Council has passed resolutions on this topic before, most recently in a 2013 resolution.  But ahead of the vote, the Trump administration threatened to use its veto power to block this resolution.

At issue was a phrase in the draft resolution that refers to providing victims of sexual violence with access to “sexual and reproductive health care.” This language has been included in previous resolutions on this matter, but the Trump administration threatened to sink the entire resolution should this language be retained. Their objection was over concerns that “sexual and reproductive health care” could be interpreted to include abortion related services.

The Trump administration threatened to block a Security resolution intended to combat sexual violence and rape in armed conflict, all because the resolution included a phrase about providing health care to victims of sexual violence.

As far as UN resolutions go, the “offending” part of the text is fairly routine.

The draft resolution included this graf:

Recognizing the importance of providing timely assistance to survivors of sexual violence, urges United Nations entities and donors to provide non-discriminatory and comprehensive health services, including sexual and reproductive health, psychosocial, legal, and livelihood support and other multi-sectoral services for survivors of sexual violence, taking into account the specific needs of persons with disabilities; 

The resolution that was passed excluded the second half of that entire paragraph, at the behest of the United States, to remove a reference to “sexual and reproductive health.”

Now, this new resolution is very much a backslide from the Security Council’s approach in year’s past.

“This means the Council now does not directly or indirectly recognize that survivors need and are entitled to sexual and reproductive health, and the text no longer elaborates what services survivors need,” says Vanessa Jackson of Care International

Of particular concern is that this language was previously included in resolutions on sexual violence in conflict, including in 2013 and 2009. It is highly unusual for countries to backtrack on language that was previously adopted. In fact, the trend is the opposite: language like this tends to be built upon over time, expanding its focus and becoming more inclusive. What is so troubling about the Trump administration’s move here is that it is forcing the Security Council to go back to the drawing board, and rehash debates that were concluded years ago.

In this case, this means the Trump administration wants the Security Council to revert back to a first-order debate over whether or not victims of sexual violence in conflict deserve access to reproductive health care in the first place.