United Nations adopts 'historic' resolution on justice for rape survivors

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The UN has adopted a text aimed at combating sexual assault and providing access to justice for victims of such abuse.

The United Nations General Assembly adopted the resolution aiding access to justice for survivors of sexual violence on Friday, in a vote which was welcomed by cries of joy and applause from those in the audience.

In the text, which was adopted by consensus, the General Assembly urges countries to take effective measures -- within the framework of national and international law -- to help enable the victims and survivors of sexual and gender-based violence access justice, remedies and assistance.

It is the first time the UN has passed a standalone resolution recognising rape in peacetime, according to Amanda Nguyen, founder and CEO of Rise, an NGO that has been fighting for years to make the voices of survivors of sexual assault heard around the world.

"What we're asking people is not only to understand that the stigma of rape is something that should be abolished but also to look themselves in the mirror and ask: what have you done about it," says Nguyen.

Friday's UN resolution stressed the importance for victims of quick and unhindered access to justice, the need to strengthen international cooperation and the importance of the protection of women's rights in general.

To highlight "victim-blaming", Rise partnered with the UN's Spotlight Initiative to stage an exhibition at the organisation's headquarters in New York City entitled 'What Were You Wearing?' to emphasise that a victim's clothing should have no bearing in rape investigations.

"I wanted to be an astronaut, I didn't want to be an activist, but here I am," said 30-year-old Nguyen. "And the clothes I wore when I was raped are on display here."

Pants, shorts, dresses, and even a little girl's swimsuit on 103 mannequins were on display in the hall of the UN headquarters from mid-July until Friday.

Representing the EU, Czech Ambassador Jakub Kulhanek hailed the determination of survivor organisations to help bring about the resolution.

"Beyond trauma, survivors too often face unacceptable barriers to accessing assistance, justice and reparation," he added.

These comments were echoed by other diplomats at the event.

"We know that we must do more to eliminate sexual violence in the world, [but] this landmark resolution brings us closer to this objective," said US representative Jeffrey DeLaurentis.

However, he noted that the text did not create rights or obligations in international law.

"Even if this UN resolution can be seen only as symbolic, it is a powerful symbol," said Nguyen. "Because we are there, we shout. We say our rape matters and you need to recognise it."