Policy

Sexual violence in conflict

Issue

Rape and sexual violence have been used as a tactic of war in conflicts across the world. Sexual violence is frequently used for political ends, as a means of ethnic cleansing and to terrorise local populations. It destroys lives, fuels conflict, creates refugees, jeopardises ceasefires and undermines the long-term prospects for reconciliation.

Sexual violence is indiscriminate, affecting men and boys as well as women and girls. All too often the victims face a life of shame and stigma, while the perpetrators go free. Only a handful of people have ever been brought to trial. As a result, those who order or carry out rape and sexual violence in conflict expect to get away with it. We are working to end this culture of impunity.

Actions

Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative (PSVI)

The PSVI campaign is working to:

  • address the culture of impunity that exists for crimes of sexual violence in conflict
  • increase the number of perpetrators held to account
  • ensure better support for survivors

by raising awareness, promoting international co-operation and increasing the political will and capacity of states to do more.

The PSVI campaign was launched in May 2012 by the former UK Foreign Secretary, William Hague and the Special Envoy of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Angelina Jolie.

Action through international organisations

Through its presidency of the Group of Eight (G8) in 2013, the UK worked to achieve greater international attention and commitment to dealing with this issue. On 11 April 2013, G8 Foreign Ministers adopted a historic Declaration on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict.

During the UK’s Presidency of the UN Security Council in 2013, the Council adopted resolution 2106 that includes a series of actions to improve the UN response to sexual violence in conflict. This was the first resolution on the subject in three years and was co-sponsored by 46 UN member states.

155 countries have endorsed the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, launched during the 68th session of the UN General Assembly in September 2013. These countries have agreed there should be no peace agreements that give amnesty to people who have ordered or carried out rape. Suspects wanted for war zone rape can now be arrested in any of these countries.

UK team of experts

A UK team of experts is supporting local resources in conflict areas. The team includes doctors, lawyers, police, psychologists, forensic specialists and experts in the care and protection of survivors and witnesses. Members have so far been sent to the Syrian borders, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Libya, Mali and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict

The UK hosted the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict in June 2014. The summit was attended by over 120 countries and more than 900 delegates, including many from conflict affected countries. The summit agreed practical steps to end impunity for the use of rape as a weapon of war and to begin to change global attitudes to these crimes.

International protocol on the documentation and investigation of sexual violence in conflict

With help from experts and survivors of sexual violence, the UK government published the International Protocol on the documentation and investigation of sexual violence in conflict. The first of its kind, the Protocol sets out the basic principles of documenting sexual violence as a crime under international law, gleaned from best practice in the field. The Protocol is not binding on states.

Prime Minister’s Special Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict

In July 2014 William Hague was appointed the Prime Minister’s Special Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict. The Special Representative’s mandate is to lead the UK’s contribution to the international campaign to end the use of rape and sexual violence as weapons of war. He will work with governments, civil society, international organisations and other interested parties to implement the outcomes of the June Global Summit.

Background

PSVI complements wider UK Government work which aims to reduce the impact of conflict on women and girls and to promote their inclusion in conflict resolution. The UK Government’s National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security ensures that the UN resolutions on this agenda are fully incorporated into UK conflict-related defence, diplomatic and development activity.

Read the UK’s strategy on preventing sexual violence in conflict.

Read more about UN action against sexual violence in conflict.

Follow the PSVI campaign on Twitter and on Facebook.

Case studies