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Speech by H.E. William Gelling, High Commissioner at the ESVC Conference in Kigali

“Sexual violence in conflict is a uniquely destructive act and method of war. It is an outrage to all morality".

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Honourable Minister, Hon. Members of Parliament,
Ladies and gentleman,

Welcome to this event organised by the British High Commission. It is a great pleasure to see so many of you here today from such a wide range of organisations. The purpose of today’s meeting is to reflect on the conclusions of the summit held in London last week, co-chaired by the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, and Angelina Jolie, with the Rwandan Foreign Minister present. Most importantly, however, we hope to turn what was agreed there into something that has a real, everyday impact here in Rwanda. So I hope that the outcome of today’s meeting will be concrete, practical agreement on steps that can be taken in Rwanda to prevent sexual violence now and in the future.

I think it is useful to consider why the conference in London was held in the first place. I want to quote briefly from the chairman’s summary which sets this out well.

“Sexual violence in conflict is a uniquely destructive act and method of war. It is an outrage to all morality. Survivors who have gone through the trauma of an attack too often also face rejection by their families and reprisals from their communities. Moreover, sexual violence in conflict often flows from underlying inequalities. Further, a society that believes in human rights for all human beings and opportunities for all its citizens cannot know about the way rape is used as a weapon of war and then simply ignore it. But it is not only our values that are at stake. Sexual violence in conflict poses a grave threat to international peace and security. It exacerbates tension and violence and undermines stability.

Sexual violence is prohibited under international law: under specific provisions of the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols, and under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. It is a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions, and, when used as a method of warfare, it will always be unlawful. States have responsibility for breaches of international law committed by their armed forces. Although it is and has been a feature of most conflicts, it has only recently been discussed openly in international conflict-prevention discourse. Yet it can undermine ceasefires, and prevent lasting reconciliation long after the last bullets have been fired. It affects not only women and girls, but also men and boys.

Thus sexual violence has a devastating impact on societies already traumatised by war, and overwhelming social, psychological and economic consequences for those it affects. All too often the stigma and shame associated with sexual violence remains with the victim rather than the perpetrator. By undermining reconciliation, deepening grievances and devastating communities, sexual violence feeds a cycle of conflict.”

The overriding conclusions of the event were that rape and sexual violence are not the inevitable results of war, that they are not lesser crimes, and that the shame of these crimes should rest on the perpetrators, never on the victims.
The conference agreed that there were four main areas for change. My challenge to you this afternoon, is to agree how you can turn these four areas into action on the ground in Rwanda. I should add that this is aimed not only at governments, but at all civil society organisations who have such a crucial role to play, and in particular at women, who must play an increasing role in decision-making on issues that have long been seen as the preserve of the political and military, male élites. I should add also that, while most often the victims are women and girls, the conference agreed that the issue must be seen also as an issue for men and boys, and that when data are collected for trials in future, investigators should ensure that they collect evidence of the violation of men and boys.

The four areas for change which I hope will form the core of our discussions today are:

  1. To improve accountability at the national and international level, including through better documentation, investigations and prosecutions at the national and international level, and better legislation implementing international obligations and standards;

  2. To provide greater support and protection to survivors of sexual violence, including children;

  3. To ensure sexual and gender-based violence responses and the promotion of gender equality are fully integrated in all peace and security efforts, including security and justice sector reform and military and police training; and

  4. To improve international strategic co-operation.

Finally, I want to highlight the International Protocol on the Documentation and Investigation of Sexual Violence in Conflict, produced in collaboration with over 200 gender and sexual violence experts, which was launched at the Summit. The Protocol will help strengthen the evidence base for bringing perpetrators to justice by guiding practitioners on how to obtain evidence for the key elements of sexual violence crimes, lessening survivor testimony. The conference agreed that in implementing the Protocol, States should ensure joint training between the medical, legal, justice and law-enforcement sectors. So that is a fifth area to consider.
All of you are more expert than I in these issues, and so I look forward greatly to hearing your practical conclusions later in the day. Welcome once again, and I wish you a very successful afternoon.

Published 24 June 2014