Last week in London the biggest ever summit on the issue of sexual violence in conflict was held. Over 128 countries were represented; 70 Ministers from across the world attended; civil society consultations permeated every aspect of political discussions; and for the first time in history a British political Summit was open to the public. The Ending Sexual Violence in conflict initiative is spearheaded by the British Foreign Secretary William Hague and UN Special Envoy Angelina Jolie. While this may seem an unlikely pairing of Politician and actress, Ms Jolie’s drive and compassion for the cause has humbled world leaders. Under Secretary of State, John Kerry, described during his speech at the Summit that Ms Jolie’s battle for the justice of those who have been victims of wartime rape is her true work, her true art, and her true legacy.
This weekend Her Majesty The Queen of England has bestowed upon Ms Jolie the distinguished honour of Dame.
The ambition and inclusive nature of the Summit meant that the atmosphere throughout the 4-day event was one of hope. Hope that the Summit would symbolise a turning point in history; hope that it would unite all nations in a renewed determination to protect the lives of so many; and hope that fear, stigma and silence would be shattered, and the armour of impunity pierced. I was honoured to accompany Foreign Minister Meade for part of his time in London where he led a high-level delegation to the Summit, and delivered a thought-provoking keynote speech during the open plenary. Foreign Secretary Hague hailed Foreign Minister Meade as a true champion of the cause. The Foreign Minister’s advocacy and the extensive awareness raising and support for the initiative from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has assisted in securing commitment from countries around the region, who have too joined the fight for change.
In addition to FM Meade’s Ministerial delegation Mexico was represented on multiple fronts. The two Mexican Youth winners of the British Embassy’s video competition on sexual violence in conflict formed part of a 26 strong youth group, which compromised of young people from all over the world, including from conflict states. The voices of the youth were heard by the decision makers and their input, as the face of future generations, was invaluable. The messages from the Mexican youth delegates was so powerful that their videos were screened at the launch and closing of the historic event. In addition, Mexican legal experts and civil society representatives joined in the extensive dialogue discussions, and all governments sat up and listened.
So what did it achieve? What will it achieve? And what we can we achieve together?
Create global guidelines: The Summit bore witness to the launch of a new International Protocol. The document is a culmination of best practices collected from practitioners, field workers and survivors the world over. It outlines how those responding to conflict emergencies can document, investigate and secure justice for victims of sexual violence. Countries have been asked, and many have already pledged, to implement laws to enable successful convictions rather than hinder them.
Training and education: It is more dangerous to be a woman in modern conflict than it is to be a man. We simply cannot allow this reality to prevail and in one of the most powerful keynote speeches of the Summit Lieutenant General David Morrison of the Australian Army said:
‘Armies that revel in their separateness from civil society, that value the male over the female, … who celebrate the violence that is integral to my profession rather than seek ways to contain it … they do nothing to distinguish the soldier from the brute’
We must therefore train the world’s Armed Forces, the peacekeepers, the law enforcers and the courts to do what their institutions were created to do, protect the people and uphold the law that sits at the very heart of civilisation.
Increase our contributions: In order to achieve we must dedicate resource. The Foreign Secretary has announced that the British Government is providing a further 6 million pounds to support rape survivors of sexual violence in conflict to aid in the rebuilding of their lives and communities. Both the US and Australia are increasing their contributions and all nations have been asked to follow suit.
Banish the myths: Rape is not an inevitable consequence of war. Victims of this wartime crime should never have to bear any shame for what has been inflicted upon them. The stigma should be on the aggressor. We can only do this if we all speak out. Politician, solider, human rights defender, civilian, men, women and children alike.
In order to project these voices an 84 hour global relay across the globe during the Summit took place. The British Embassy in Mexico, in collaboration with the Museum of Memory and Tolerance, held a screening of the film: In the Land of Blood and Honey. The film that inspired the Foreign Secretary and UN Special Envoy partnership. During the event, attendees were treated to special messages from the power duo themselves, and at the end of the projection signed a giant logo of the initiative, writing messages of solidarity with the victims and demanded a global response to this crime. The logo will remain displayed in the courtyard of the building of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I encourage you to visit it, to have your voice heard on the issues and join the debate using the hashtag # TimeToAct.