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Remarks at the Minister's Day Opening Plenary

William Hague and Angelina Jolie remarks at the opening plenary of Minister's Day at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict

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Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict

Remarks from Foreign Secretary William Hague

Ladies and gentlemen, Good morning and thank you all for being here today for this unprecedented event.

It is hugely inspiring to see more than 123 countries represented in this room today, many UN agencies and international organisations, faith leaders, military leaders, lawyers, Nobel laureates, dedicated activists and courageous survivors.

This is truly a Summit like no other. Just a few minutes’ walk away are a multitude of exhibitions, stalls, performances and events that bring home the horrors of sexual violence and the unsung heroism of those who have suffered this appalling crime and yet gone on to rebuild their lives and their communities.

After two days of civil society events and expert discussions I am more convinced than ever that all of our governments must dramatically increase their efforts to eradicate their appalling crimes.

First, because this is a matter of our common humanity.

I defy anyone to read the testimony of survivors, to hear their voices, to meet them in person and not to be moved to take up this struggle.

Sexual violence is a uniquely destructive act and tactic of war, and an outrage to all morality.

Survivors must not only go through the trauma of the attack, too often they then face rejection by their families and sometimes reprisals from their communities.

They must see their attackers every day walking free on the street, or holding positions of authority, while they are made to feel ashamed and stay silent.

This is not a situation that our consciences can tolerate.

And I firmly believe that as foreign ministers we must not just fight the flames of one crisis after another in our daily work; we must also work positively to improve the condition of humanity.

But it is not only our values that are at stake, sexual violence in conflict undermines international peace and security, and this is the second reason we must act now to tackle this scourge.

Warzone rape not only devastates individual lives, it divides communities, making the wounds of war that much harder to heal. It holds back development, drives refugee flows and undermines regional stability.

In a world where events in one country can rapidly affect not just neighbouring countries but others thousands of miles away, this is an issue that none of us can ignore.

Third, if we do not tackle these issues now, it will only get worse.

By undermining reconciliation, deepening grievances and devastating communities, sexual violence fuels a cycle of conflict and more abuses that is immensely destructive.

We are all here because we have made a commitment to end sexual violence in conflict but now the time has come for practical action.

We must all work together to shatter the culture of impunity for sexual violence in conflict at every level.

We must ensure the right laws are in place to hold the perpetrators of these crimes to account, whether they directly committed rape or they commanded it.

And we must ensure that all those working to document these crimes have the understanding and the skills to investigate them while protecting survivors, which is why yesterday we launched the International Protocol on the Documentation and Investigation of Sexual Violence in Conflict.

Above all as governments we must send the message internationally and at home that rape in war is not some lesser crime – it is an atrocity of the first order and there must be no safe haven for perpetrators anywhere in the world.

I hope governments, international organisations and the civil society organisations here today can all use the International Protocol in training, in policies and in practice to help bring the full weight of the law down on this terrible abuse.

But in addition to making use of every legal avenue, we must also do more to reduce the immediate danger to women and men in conflict zones around the world.

I hope all countries can give preventing sexual violence the weight it deserves in their military doctrines and train soldiers and peacekeepers to apply simple steps that can dramatically reduce the risks of attacks and to respond appropriately to sexual violence when it does occur.

Survivors need more support both in emergencies and after conflict has subsided. Mobilising this support is another of our key objectives at this Summit.

The UK has this week committed another £5 million to improving services for survivors of sexual violence in conflict worldwide and we have also announced another £1 million in support for the International Criminal Court’s Trust Fund for Victims.

I hope other governments will be able to do more to help survivors to gain access the support they desperately need and help the human rights defenders who campaign to bring justice.

And finally, I hope we can work together through this Summit to produce a global shift in attitudes. We must debunk the myth that rape in war is somehow inevitable, we must demonstrate the scale of the problem, acknowledge its impact on every continent and on men and boys as well as women and girls. We must transform world opinion and ingrain an opposition to this crime so deep that it will strike fear into the heart of any would-be perpetrator.

Our goal is not to impose solutions: it is to help countries that are themselves dealing with this crime and its legacy, like the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia who will be discussing their work later today;

Our aim is to work in partnership with the UN, supporting Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zainab Bangura and UN Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict so that they can maintain and intensify their valuable efforts;

And it is to work with regional organisations, from the Organisation of American States to the African Union to the OSCE to the European Union so that no corner of the globe is left untouched by our campaign.

We have a unique opportunity over the next twenty four hours to intensify and extend our efforts to deal with this issue. It may take as many years or more to reach our goals, but every concrete step we take helps to erode the culture of impunity, to relieve survivors of their stigma and suffering, and to deter future perpetrators.

All of us gathered in this room, acting together, can make an enormous difference, and we must make sure it is lasting and profound.

The action that needs to be taken is the responsibility of governments but as you know this Summit is not just about governments. This brings together campaigners, survivors, sufferers who have the knowledge, the passion, often the quiet dignity that can teach important lessons to us all.

So let us be mindful of all that and also draw inspiration from the activists and artists in the Fringe and around the world drawing attention to these issues, changing attitudes and creating international momentum and I am delighted to introduce the winner of the British Embassy in Mexico’s video competition, a short film by Belem Ramirez who is here as part of the youth delegation.

Remarks from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Special Envoy Angelina Jolie

I have heard it asked this week, why this issue, why now?

Why, in a world of so many problems, are we all focussing on this one?

Why does it matter?

Anyone who has met survivors and heard their stories knows that answer:

We are here for the nine-year old girl in Uganda, kidnapped and forced into sexual slavery.

We are here for the man in Bosnia, years after rape still stigmatised, unable to earn enough money to buy bread for his family.

We are here for all the forgotten, hidden survivors who have been made to feel ashamed, or been abandoned, and for the children of rape.

We want the whole world to hear their stories, and understand that this injustice cannot be tolerated, and that sorrow and compassion are not enough.

As one woman told me yesterday – we’ve had enough of words. We want action.

Many brave men and women have been fighting to protect victims of warzone rape for years, and many are with us today.

But we as an international community have never done enough to stop this abuse.

And we do survivors a disservice when they know we are aware but do nothing to hold perpetrators accountable.

Our outrage does not help the woman who walks into her attacker on the street - free as a bird, free to abuse others, because of this global culture of impunity.

And today, we have an opportunity to begin to change that.

My plea to you today, is to see both the individuals who have suffered, and the bigger picture:

To think what we would each be prepared to do, as individuals, to prevent those we love from suffering - and apply that protective instinct to the world’s most vulnerable people.

And to remember, looking at the sweep of history, that we do have the power to eradicate injustice, with political will and determination.

These crimes of sexual violence are bigger than any one conflict or national interest.

And for all the things we struggle to agree upon as nations, the abhorrence of rape cannot be one of them.

So I ask all the governments here today, to move from condemnation to action:

To be ready to change and improve your laws so they offer proper protections;

To write the prevention of sexual violence into the training of your militaries and police forces;

To support and implement the new International Protocol, to drive up the number of prosecutions;

And to fund the UN efforts and NGO projects that work with survivors to heal them emotionally and help them, help them to gain support and justice.

Warzone rape is a preventable crime.

So our response must never again be that these things simply happen.

It can never be, that peace is more important than justice - or that money is in short supply - or that there are other priorities.

I have heard some people say that we have set ourselves an impossible task.

But the greater the problem the greater our determination should be.

Look around you, look at how many of us are here, at all the countries represented, and think of what we could accomplish together.

Think of what difference we will make if we apply all the lessons learned at this summit, and bring to bear all your influence and expertise.

Think of what that would mean for millions of people.

I am hopeful that we can unite on this issue – and I thank all the governments that have taken a stand by supporting our declaration and coming to London.

This Summit is a model for a new way of working together.

And this single issue is now a centre point.

It is just the beginning. There are many crimes, abuses in all forms, that we must confront together.

But let us begin here – and let us expand from here.

Thank you

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Published 12 June 2014