Foreign Secretary William Hague announced a UK initiative on preventing sexual violence in conflict.
The initiative forms part of the UK’s forthcoming Presidency of the G8 in 2013.
It includes the establishment of a dedicated UK team devoted to combating and preventing sexual violence in conflict. This team will be able to be deployed overseas at short notice to gather evidence and testimony that can be used to support investigations and prosecutions.
The initiative was launched to an invited audience of political and civil society figures at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, followed by an advance screening of “In the Land of Blood and Honey.”
The film’s Director and Special Envoy to the UN High Commissioner on Refugees, Ms Angelina Jolie attended, along with members of the cast.
The Foreign Secretary said:
“Sexual violence is a problem found in every society in the world, and all countries have to do more to tackle it at home. We have to ensure equal rights for women at every level of society, and to protect the vulnerable, most of all our children. But it is in the context of war and conflict that sexual violence is found to the most appalling degree, and on a scale most of us cannot imagine.
“In Bosnia and Herzegovina between 20,000 and 50,000 women were raped between 1992 and 1995. In Sierra Leone, the figure was between 50,000 and 64,000. During the genocide in Rwanda, the UN estimates that at least 250,000 women were raped. In Liberia, 49% of women between the ages of 15 and 70 reported experiencing at least one act of physical or sexual violence by a soldier or fighter. And there are horrifying reports now starting to emerge of rape in Syria.
“Sexual violence is an issue which is central to conflict prevention and to peace building worldwide. Where there is no justice, the seeds of future conflict are sown, and development is held back. This was brought home to me personally when I met women in refugee camps in Darfur and survivors of Srebrenica.
“As a community of nations we will not succeed in preventing conflict and building sustainable peace unless we give this issue the centrality it deserves; alongside the empowerment and participation of women at every level in all societies.
“Despite the valiant efforts of many individuals and organisations, the perpetrators of the worst sexual crimes generally go unpunished. So today, I want to publicly renew the British Government’s commitment to the fight against sexual violence. We want to use Britain’s influence and diplomatic capability to rally effective international action.
“We want to help find practical ways to ensure that survivors feel confident to speak out, and regain the dignity, rights, and restitution that is their due. And we want to see a significant increase in the number of successful prosecutions so that we erode and eventually demolish the culture of impunity.
“To that end, we will set up a new team of experts devoted to combating and preventing sexual violence in conflict. This team will be able to be deployed overseas at short notice to gather evidence and testimony that can be used to support investigations and prosecutions. It will be available to be drawn on to support UN missions, and to provide training and mentoring to national authorities to help them develop the right laws and capabilities. It will draw on the skills of doctors, lawyers, police, psychologists, forensic experts and experts in the care and protection of victims and witnesses.
“On top of this, we will use Britain’s Presidency of the G8, starting on January 1st 2013, to run a year-long diplomatic campaign on the need for stronger international action to deter and prevent sexual violence in conflict.
“We will use these crucial seven months before our Presidency to build real momentum around this initiative. Within that time, we will bring the new team fully into operation; and we will consult other countries and work with the UN and our NGO partners on specific detailed initiatives for the UK’s G8 Presidency and beyond.
“We are deeply honoured that Ms Angelina Jolie, Special Envoy of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, has joined us tonight at this launch. Ms Jolie, we are very grateful to you for coming and for graciously allowing us to screen your film ‘In the Land of Blood and Honey’. For more than ten years you have worked to highlight the plight of refugees worldwide in Haiti, Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya and many other countries; to support numerous charitable causes, and to promote education, justice and the rights of women worldwide. And in this film you bring to life the devastating human consequences of international inaction in the face of conflict, the appalling human rights abuses that stem from it, and the impact on women. It is a rallying call that none of us can ignore.”