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Foreign Secretary William Hague and UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie are joining forces again this week to highlight the terrible human cost of warzone rape, and to call for Governments worldwide to address this neglected and growing problem.
On a visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda they will meet survivors of rape and sexual violence and the local organisations and UN bodies supporting them. They will also meet political leaders to discuss the need for a lasting solution to the conflict.
Speaking ahead of the visit, Foreign Secretary William Hague said:
Rape is often used as a weapon of war in conflict zones around the world. It destroys people’s lives and communities in the most horrific manner imaginable. Yet more often than not the international community looks away, the perpetrators of these brutal crimes walk free and the cycle of injustice and conflict is repeated. We have to shatter this culture of impunity. It is time for real, meaningful action by the Governments of the world to say that the use of rape as a weapon of war is unacceptable, to bring perpetrators to justice and to lift the stigma from survivors. This is my personal priority for the meeting of G8 Foreign Ministers in London in April and at the UN later this year.
UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie said:
This visit is about hearing first hand from people who have endured rape and sexual violence during the conflict in the Eastern DRC. We want to identify ways in which the international community can help them to rebuild their lives. We want to learn the lessons that their experience holds for how the world can protect thousands of women, men and children at risk of rape in many other conflict zones. And we want to persuade Governments around the world to give this issue the attention it deserves. Unless the world acts, we will always be reacting to atrocities, treating survivors rather than preventing rape in the first place. I welcome the United Kingdom’s efforts to galvanise the international action that is so desperately needed.
The joint visit continues work begun in May 2012, when William Hague and Angelina Jolie launched in London a new UK campaign to prevent conflict zone rape and sexual violence.
The visit comes three weeks before the Foreign Ministers of the United Kingdom, the US, France, Canada, Japan, Germany, Russia and Italy gather in London for the annual meeting of the G8.
William Hague and Angelina Jolie are calling on the G8 to agree landmark measures to secure justice for survivors of sexual violence and deter perpetrators. These include a new International Protocol on the Documentation and Investigation of Rape and Sexual Violence, agreement that rape and sexual violence constitute grave breaches of the Geneva Convention so that universal jurisdiction can apply, and practical commitments to help affected countries.
As a UNHCR Special Envoy, Angelina Jolie has highlighted the plight of refugees worldwide for over a decade. Her 2011 film ‘In the Land of Blood and Honey’ depicted the experiences of women in the infamous rape camps set up during ethnic cleansing in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and was a catalyst for the UK Initiative.
Accurate statistics on the extent of sexual violence in conflict-affected countries are notoriously difficult to obtain but every year tens of thousands of women, men and children are victims of these horrific crimes. A War Child report (An Unwanted Truth, November 2012) reported that in 2012 74% of sexual violence survivors treated at the HEAL Hospital in Goma were children.
As part of the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative, the UK has set up a groundbreaking team of over 70 experts, made up of doctors, lawyers, police officers, psychologists and forensic scientists, who can be deployed overseas, in support of the UN or at the request of national governments, to investigate cases of sexual violence and build up the legal and practical capability of other countries.
This year team members will be sent to Syria’s borders, Mali, Libya, Bosnia-Herzegovina, South Sudan and the DRC to provide training and help investigate cases of rape and sexual violence to support future prosecutions.
After the G8, the campaign will be taken to the UN Security Council in June and to the UN General Assembly in September.