Landmark UN declaration on violence against women and girls

Muslim and Western nations have overcome deep divisions to agree a landmark UN declaration setting out a code of conduct for combating violence against women and girls.

Iran, Libya, Sudan and other Muslim nations agreed to language stating violence against women could not be justified by "any custom, tradition or religious consideration".

Western nations, particularly from Scandinavia, toned down demands for references to gay rights and sexual health rights to secure the accord after two weeks of tense negotiations between the 193 UN member states.

Cheers and wild applause erupted when the accord was announced in the UN headquarters late on Friday.

Michelle Bachelet, executive director of UN Women, said it had been a "historic" meeting. It was announced straight afterwards that Bachelet would be leaving her post to return to Chile.

"People worldwide expected action, and we didn't fail them," Bachelet said.

UN leader Ban Ki-Moon said UN members had committed "to take action to prevent violence and provide justice and services to survivors" of violence against women, which he called a "global menace" and "moral outrage".

Iran and other Muslim states, the Vatican and Russia had formed what some diplomats had called "an unholy alliance" to weaken a statement calling for tough global standards on violence against women and girls.

They had objected to references to abortion rights and language suggesting rape includes forcible behaviour by a woman's husband or partner.

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood had called the proposed UN document un-Islamic and warned it would lead to the "complete degradation of society".

With Norway and Denmark leading a European alliance with North America calling for tough language, right up to the final hours it had appeared that the meeting could end without an accord.

The last attempt by the UN commission to agree a declaration on violence against women in 2003 ended in failure.

"The commission urges states to strongly condemn all forms of violence against women and girls and to refrain from invoking any custom, tradition or religious consideration to avoid their obligations with respect to its elimination," said the declaration.

States should "devote particular attention to abolishing practices and legislation that discriminate against women and girls, or perpetuate and condone violence against them."

Countries should "address and eliminate as a matter of priority domestic violence," went on the declaration.

- AFP

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