By Riya Shivanand
New York City, NY—This month, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously passed a resolution to create a historic world-wide sexual violence bill of rights.
First introduced by Sierra Leone’s Foreign Minister, David Francis, the resolution calls for global cooperation in effectively providing sexual violence survivors with proper justice, aid, and reparations.
“Our focus is to increase cooperation to eliminate sexual violence and step up the international response to support victims and survivors,” Francis commented.
With over 84 co-sponsors, the bill of rights made history by recognizing sexual abuse victims for the first time in a peacetime standalone resolution.
The resolution was originally championed by RISE, a sexual assault civil rights organization, that first pushed this movement to the United States Congress chambers prior to advancing it to the United Nations General Assembly.
Amanda Nguyen, the founder of RISE and a leader of the survivors’ empowerment movement, writes that this resolution is pivotal in that it “bears witness to all survivors in their pursuit of justice” and guarantees them “basic civil rights protection by absolving them of any custom, tradition or religious consideration that may delay or diminish this pursuit.”
As a rape victim herself, Nguyen played a key role in codifying Civil Rights for victims through the adoption of the Survivors’ Bill of Rights Act of 2016.
Signed into law by President Obama, the 2016 text was, in many ways, a precursor to the one passed in the United Nations General Assembly. It stressed the need for free medical examinations, longer rape kit preservation periods, explicit statements of survivors’ rights, and expanding statutory criminal victim’s rights to sexual violence victims.
The United Nations resolution titled “International cooperation for access to justice, remedies and assistance for survivors of sexual violence” similarly elaborates on comprehensive plans to prevent and protect women against sexual exploitation.
Nguyen along with RISE led the petition for the resolution and took to Instagram to gain more international support.
“We have codified civil rights for 25 million rape survivors in America, now I’m asking you to take this movement global. Justice should not depend on geography. Basic protections against sexual violence and access to justice should be available to everyone, no matter their gender, age, nationality or citizenship,” Nguyen captioned.
However, the resolution was met with contention and faced four proposed amendments regarding the language of framing reproductive rights, international domestic violence regulations and methods for reparation.
Member nations such as Nigeria, Russia, China, Malaysia, Nicaragua, and Middle Eastern countries favored the amendments, worrying that without the proposed amendments’ limitations, the language of the original resolution would leave room for authorizing abortion.
In the end, overwhelming support from Western and European countries for the original resolution defeated the amendments by more than a 2-1 margin and led the historic measures to be voted on under their initial premises.
Advocating for passage of the resolution without amendments, Czech representative Jakub Kulhanek stated on behalf of other European nations that the “resolution outlines concrete actions all countries should take and also recognizes the need to combat conflict-related sexual violence.”
United States Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis added his support, arguing in strong favor of the global adoption of a sexual violence bill of rights without any modifications and stressing its continued efforts in providing survivor witness protection, reproductive health services, and destigimatization of sexual abuse.
Ultimately, the sexual violence bill of rights was adopted unanimously, making it the first time that 35 percent of women around the world who are victims of sexual assault are represented in the United Nations agenda.
While the negotiations to pass this resolution are a reminder of the pushback on gender equality and women’s rights that subsist, its successful unanimous adoption is a historic step towards recognizing victim’s rights as fundamental human rights.