Speech

Foreign Secretary launches new Government initiative to prevent sexual violence in conflict

Foreign Secretary William Hague spoke at the launch of the Government initiative on preventing sexual violence in conflict, and the screening of the film "In the Land of Blood and Honey".

Ambassadors, my Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen; good evening and welcome to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

“We are here to launch of the British Government’s new initiative on preventing sexual violence in armed conflict, in the presence of our very special guests this evening. When we think of armed conflict, we think of battlefields, soldiers in arms and tanks. But wars tragically are also about civilians, particularly women and children, caught on the margins of the battlefield yet at the centre of warfare.

“Rape and other forms of sexual violence have been used as weapons against women in conflicts the world over.
This was brought home to me most starkly when I met women in refugee camps in Darfur who had been viciously assaulted when collecting firewood to cook for their children, and the survivors of Srebrenica - the worst atrocity on European soil since the end of the Second World War.

“All these women told me of the unspeakable violence perpetrated against them. They talked to me of their rights unfulfilled and violated; their desire for justice for themselves, for their children and families, and above all their desire for peace. I was shocked for example when I learnt that only around 30 people have been convicted so far for the up to 50,000 rapes committed during the war in Bosnia in the 1990s.

“And there are chilling reports of rape in Syria today along with the murder, torture and repression of thousands of innocent civilians. As Foreign Secretary, I am appalled by the scale of sexual violence against women, men and children in situations of conflict and repression - ranging from opportunistic acts of brutality to deliberate torture and systematic campaigns of ethnic cleansing.

“It is my firm conviction that tackling sexual violence is central to conflict prevention and peace-building worldwide. It must be as prominent in foreign policy as it is in development policy, for the two cannot be separated. And it also cannot be separated from wider issues of women’s rights.

“We will not succeed in building sustainable peace in conflict areas unless we give the issue of sexual violence the centrality it deserves; alongside the economic and political empowerment of women and their vital role in peace-building.

“For where there is no justice and accountability, the seeds of future violence are sown and human development is held back. I pay tribute to the huge amount of dedicated work by the UN and its agencies and by NGOs over the last decade: providing care and sexual health support on the ground, raising global awareness, pursuing ground-breaking legal cases and working with member states to frame vital UN Security Council Resolutions on women, peace and security, including Resolutions 1325 and 1820.

“I know that many of our guests tonight have devoted years of their careers to these issues. Thanks to you and your colleagues around the world, we build on strong foundations. But we need to do still more together.

“We are honoured that Ms Angelina Jolie, Special Envoy of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, has joined us this evening, for discussions with my Ministerial colleagues and to speak at this event. For more than ten years she has worked to highlight the plight of refugees worldwide in Haiti, Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya and many other countries; to support numerous charitable causes, and to promote education, justice and the rights of women worldwide.

“Ms Jolie, we are very grateful to you for coming and for allowing us to screen your film ‘In the Land of Blood and Honey’. I also thank Zana Marjanovic, Goran Kostic and Vanesa Glodjo for their courageous participation in this remarkable film, and for travelling to be here tonight. In the film you bring to life the devastating consequences of international inaction in the face of conflict, the appalling human rights abuses that stem from it; and the impact on the lives of women.

“It is a rallying-call that none of us can ignore. Today, I want publicly to renew the British Government’s commitment to tackling sexual violence in armed conflict. We want to work to find practical ways to ensure that survivors feel confident to speak out, and are able to regain the dignity and rights that are due to them.

“We want to see a significant increase in the number of successful prosecutions for these crimes, so that we erode and eventually demolish the culture of impunity and establish a new culture of deterrence in its place. We want to use Britain’s influence and diplomatic network to rally sustained international action and to push this issue up the global agenda.

“So to that end, we will set up a new UK team of experts devoted to combating and preventing sexual violence in armed conflict. This team will be able to be deployed overseas at short notice to gather evidence and testimony that can be used to support investigations and prosecutions.

“It will draw on the skills of doctors, lawyers, police, psychologists, forensic specialists and experts in the care and protection of victims and witnesses. It will significantly strengthen the specialist capabilities that we are able to bring to bear on these issues as the United Kingdom.

“The team will be available to support UN and other international missions, and to provide training and mentoring to national authorities to help them develop the right laws and capabilities. It will also be able to work on the frontline with grassroots organisations, local peace builders and human rights.

“I can also announce that we will use Britain’s Presidency of the G8, starting on January 1st 2013, to run a year-long diplomatic campaign on preventing sexual violence in armed conflict. We will use the crucial seven months before our Presidency to build real momentum around this initiative.

“Within that time, we will have brought the new UK Team fully into operation. And we will have worked with the UN and our NGO partners to develop specific detailed initiatives for our G8 Presidency and beyond. And we are delighted by the positive response this initiative has received from our friends and NGO partners so far.

“Confronted by the greatest ills of our world it is all too easy to be overwhelmed and to turn away. But none of the strides we have made in human rights would ever have been possible without high ambition and resolute determination - from the abolition of the slave trade to the global arms trade treaty we hope to see concluded this summer. And I am confident that working with you all we can bring new energy and leadership to tackling this vital issue, and to advancing justice and human rights worldwide.”

UK initiative on preventing sexual violence in conflict

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Foreign Secretary William Hague announced a UK initiative on preventing sexual violence in conflict, 29 May 2012.

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