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At AU Summit, U.N. Secretary-General Calls For More Efforts To Empower Women, Stop Sexual Violence

On the final day of the two-day African Union (AU) Summit taking place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday called for greater efforts to reduce sexual violence, particularly during armed conflicts, Ezega.com reports (Barea, 1/31).

“We have to raise the cost of committing atrocities to the point where they harm the perpetrators even more than the victims,” Ban told a news conference on sexual violence at the AU Summit, U.N. News Centre reports. “That means that when a peace process begins, perpetrators are never permitted to get or to retain positions of military, political or economic influence. Where sexual violence has been part of the fighting, ending it must be part of making peace,” Ban added.

According to the news service, Ban pointed to Africa as having “some of the world’s most progressive legal instruments to address sexual violence in conflict and advance women’s rights, including the Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa and the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa, and he hailed the AU’s decision to ensure that its Peace and Security Council holds an annual session on women and children in armed conflict.”

“The challenge now is to ensure these laudable commitments are felt where they matter most, in the marketplaces where women trade, at water-points, and along the roads where girls walk to school,” Ban said. “The United Nations wants to work closely with the African Union and African troop contributors to better prepare our peacekeepers to respond to sexual violence as a security threat. We need Africa’s leaders and leaders around the world to support this campaign.”

Ban noted recent efforts to improve the reporting of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia and the Sudan. Ban’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Margot Wallstrom, attended the AU Summit, and spoke of the long-term trauma experienced by victims of sexual violence (1/31).

Ban also noted the U.N.’s commitment to women’s issues and highlighted the role that the recently launched U.N. Women would play in efforts to improve “African women’s access to education, health and political responsibility,” PANA/Afrique en ligne reports (1/31).

On Sunday, together with U.N. Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Ban spoke of need to empower African women and the ways U.N. Women hopes to achieve this goal on the sidelines of the AU Summit, IEWY News reports.

“We are at the dawn of the African Women’s Decade,” Ban said during a ceremony to mark the unveiling of the U.N. Women logo in Africa, according to the article. “We need to empower African women who produce food, raise children and drive the economy here. When those women take their rightful place at the negotiating table, in the parliament and in leadership positions across society, we can unleash Africa’s enormous potential,” Ban added (1/31).

Ban Highlights Achievements Of African Leaders Malaria Alliance

Also on the sidelines of the AU Summit, Ban spoke of the success of the African Leaders Malaria Alliance (ALMA), the “high-level forum set up [in 2009] to oversee the efficient procurement, distribution, and utilization of malaria control measures, with the aim of ending unnecessary deaths from the disease by 2015,” U.N. News Centre writes in a separate piece.

“The African Leaders Malaria Alliance is breaking down barriers, forging partnerships and getting supplies to families in record time,” Ban said. “This is remarkable progress. We need to encourage it and use the response to malaria as a model for battling other illnesses and social ills,” he added.

“Just last month, the U.N. World Health Organization (WHO) announced that malaria deaths declined by 10 percent between 2008 and 2009. In 11 African countries, the disease’s deadly toll has been cut by more than half since the year 2000,” the news service notes. The article notes the progress towards the MDG malaria target to halt and reverse incidence of malaria by 2015 and includes comments by Ray Chambers, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Malaria (1/31).

Human Rights Groups Express Reservations About Election Of Equatorial Guinea President To Head Of AU

Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika, outgoing head of the AU Summit, announced Sunday that Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo had been elected to lead the AU, “an appointment human rights groups said undermined the 53-nation bloc’s commitment to democracy,” Bloomberg reports in an article that describes the president’s history of corruption (Cohen/Davison, 1/30).

“Since oil was discovered in Equatorial Guinea some 20 years ago, the country’s per capita income has grown larger than that of some European countries, making it the richest nation in sub-Saharan Africa,” the Associated Press reports. “Yet life for the average citizen has become harsher. According to U.N. figures, the number of infants dying has increased, while 30 percent of children complete primary school. Only a third of the population has running water and electricity, and 60 percent live on less than a dollar a day,” the news service adds.

The article includes reactions to the decision by several members of human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, who “condemned Obiang’s appointment,” warning members of the AU against allowing the appointment to stall progress in human right issues. The article describes other topics that dominated the two-day meeting as well (Faul, 1/31).

“‘For the more than 30 years that he has been in power, Equatorial Guinea has been plagued by appalling human rights violations and corruption,’ with vast oil revenue being ‘diverted to fund lavish lifestyles for the small elite surrounding the president,'” Human Rights Watch was quoted as writing in an email, Bloomberg reports. “Only 10 countries ranked below Equatorial Guinea on Transparency International’s 2010 list of global corruption perceptions,” the news service adds.

Still, Bloomberg notes that “[a]t a conference in Cape Town in June last year, Obiang committed his government to greater transparency on oil revenue, judicial independence and press freedom. He also pledged to invest billions of dollars in health and education” (1/30).