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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 June 2006, 10:45 GMT 11:45 UK
Rape in war 'a growing problem'
Displaced Sudanese women queue for water at a camp near Al-Fasher, capital of Darfur
Displaced women, such as these in Darfur, are at risk
Rape and sexual violence in conflict appear to be worsening and very little is being done to tackle the problem, a major UN conference has heard.

The conference organiser, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), wants a UN declaration and extra funding.

Delegates from 14 conflict-affected countries, half from Africa, are attending the conference in Brussels.

The UNFPA says that, while sexual violence in wartime is not new, there is evidence it is becoming more common.

The trend towards more civil and regional conflicts means civilians are targeted more than ever before, the organisation says.

Women and children are vulnerable, not just during armed attacks, but also in displacement camps, during aid distribution and even after conflict has officially ended.

"Everybody in the world knows that sexual violence, especially in war situations, is wrong," Thoraya Obaid, the UNFPA's executive director, said.

"But very little effort is being directed either to stop it or to provide support to women who are facing this kind of a crime in their own countries."

Gaza cases

A UN report prepared for the meeting found that systematic rape was a prominent feature of the conflicts in Bosnia-Hergovina, DR Congo, East Timor and Haiti, and is ongoing in the Darfur region of Sudan.

Sexual violence is a human rights violation, a global public health problem, and an impediment to recovery, development and peace
Kofi Annan
UN Secretary General

No-one knows exactly how many women have been attacked in the chaos of Darfur, the BBC's David Loyn says from the conference.

But rape has been used there as a weapon of war to impose the will of one people on another - as it was in previous conflicts such as those in Bosnia-Hercegovina and Rwanda, he says.

In Rwanda, officials estimate that 60,000 women were raped during the 1994 conflict, two-thirds of whom have been infected with HIV/Aids, the UNFPA believes.

In Bosnia, the figure is put at around 40,000.

The conference has already heard testimony from the DR Congo, where sex with very young children has become commonplace in the mistaken belief it can cure Aids.

Sexual violence has also been linked to development funding. Cases in Gaza and the West Bank have increased significantly since the EU and the US cut funding after January's election of Hamas, Luay Shabaneh of the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics says.

The three-day conference, sponsored by the European Commission and Belgium, is the first such international event to address the problem, says the UN.

In a statement, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said the global body took the issue with "utmost seriousness" and urged donors to "provide the backing required" to deal with the problem.


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