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Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative

International action to combat sexual violence in conflict is led by the UN, in part driven by their presence in many of the settings where sexual violence is often prevalent but also because the existing international monitoring and accountability mechanisms flow from key UN documents, such as Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security and its associated resolutions.

That is why we are working closely with a wide range of UN actors, such as the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict and UN Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict which coordinates the work of 13 UN entities in this field.

We are also consulting a wide range of international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) who are active in this field including Care International, Save the Children, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, GAPS, Physicians for Human Rights, International Rescue Committee, Justice Rapid Response and beyond. On 4 July 2012 we held an NGO consultation to seek their views on the initiative.

In addition, the Foreign Secretary has convened a steering board of leading external champions and experts in this field whose wide experience and knowledge we will draw upon and use to challenge us as we work on this initiative.

Sexual violence in conflict is widespread. Most frequently it is carried out by one group against another with the deliberate intention of destroying, degrading, humiliating and scaring political opponents or entire ethnic and religious groups.

It affects not only large numbers of women, but also men and children. In addition to the physical and psychological trauma suffered by survivors, sexual violence leads to increased ethnic, sectarian and other divisions, further entrenching conflict and instability.

Very few perpetrators have ever been put on trial. This culture of impunity means the cycle of sexual violence continues – from Bosnia, to Rwanda, to the Democratic Republic of Congo, to Libya, and to Syria.

Since the mid-1990s, the UN, other agencies and a wide range of NGOs have worked to support and empower women survivors and to increase their participation in peace-building and conflict resolution.

Important legal precedent has been set at international tribunals and the International Criminal Court. But a lack of accountability for sexual crimes committed in conflict remains.

Despite extensive efforts the international community has had limited success in tackling impunity. Recognising the need for governments to do more and the particular leading role that the UK could play, on 29 May the Foreign Secretary launched the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative in London, in the presence of UN High Commissioner for Refugees Special Envoy, Angelina Jolie.

The Foreign Secretary’s Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative aims to replace the culture of impunity with one of deterrence - by increasing the number of perpetrators brought to justice both internationally and nationally; by strengthening international efforts and co-ordination to prevent and respond to sexual violence; and by supporting states build national capacity. We will do this by:

  • launching a sustained campaign through the UK’s Presidency of the G8 in 2013 to build a global partnership to prevent sexual violence in conflict. Our objective will be to secure a range of new commitments from G8 Partners to strengthen international efforts to prevent and respond to sexual violence in conflict which we hope to broaden beyond the G8 over time. We are also assessing the need for a new international protocol on the investigation and documentation of sexual violence in conflict.
  • establishing a specialist team of UK experts to deploy to conflict areas to support the UN and civil society to investigate allegations of sexual violence, gather evidence and help build national capacity to do so
  • increasing our funding to the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict to support their efforts to strengthen national capacity to investigative, prosecute perpetrators of sexual violence and to protect survivors and witnesses.

Follow our work on preventing sexual violence in conflict on Tumblr and via @FCOHumanRights on Twitter.

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