“We are steadily building the global momentum needed to end the use of rape and sexual violence in conflict once and for all. These crimes have ruined the lives of millions of women, men and children in our lifetimes. We have an opportunity, at last, to transform global attitudes to the use of rape as a weapon of war and shatter the culture of impunity.” – William Hague, UK Foreign Secretary
From 10–13 June the ExCel Centre in London will host the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. The conference will be co-chaired by UK Foreign Secretary, William Hague, and Angelina Jolie, Special Envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. 148 countries, over three-quarters of UN member states, have endorsed the UN’s Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, all of which have been invited to attend – and with the addition of judicial, military, NGO and civil society representatives, it looks set to be the largest global meeting ever convened to discuss this issue.
“The use of rape as a weapon of war has led to its normalisation, thereby eroding all limits and social constraints against sexual and gender-based violence, worsening the phenomenon and its consequences for women.” – Julienne Lusenge, human rights activist in DR Congo.
The overall ambition of this campaign is to finally bring to an end the use of rape and sexual violence as instruments of war, and to eliminate tolerance for those who commit such atrocities. Participating nations will be asked to support a new international protocol which aims to make the offenders accountable for their actions, and ensure that the military are able to prevent this type of situation from developing, or are prepared to react in cases where it has not been avoided. These states will also be expected to provide support to survivors of sexually-charged acts of violence, and to aid in the prevention of these issues in conflict-affected countries.
“Sexual violence in conflict knows no geographical borders. From Colombia to Bosnia, from Cambodia to Democratic Republic of Congo; it knows no gender or age limits. Men and boys have also been victims, and I have met survivors as young as six months and women as old as 70 years.” – Zainab Bangura, UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict
The recognition and attention that the problem is now attracting is long overdue, and hopefully it will finally provoke an effective response. The need for this initiative was further highlighted by the abduction of girls which occurred in Nigeria last month. William Hague was keen to reiterate his belief, stating that “using girls as the spoils of war and the spoils of terrorism is disgusting and immoral. It should show everybody across the world that they should not give any support for such a vile organisation.”
Margot Wallström, UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, notes that sexual violence in conflict “has been called ‘history’s greatest silence’, the ‘world’s least condemned war crime’, and the only offence for which society blames and shames the victim rather than the perpetrator.” But now there’s plenty of noise surrounding what William Hague claims to be ‘the great moral issue of our time’, and we can only hope it will lead to radical changes in the practice of war, as the Geneva Convention did in 1949.
During my time at Peace Direct, I have come to understand the constant struggle that women face worldwide, and it will be interesting to see how much of this serious concern over sexual violence is then transferred to the related issues of female rights and non-sexual violence. That may prove to be the true measure of the success of the summit next month.
You can get involved by attending some of the free public events that are going to run in tandem with the conference – a list can be viewed at: