Ladies and gentlemen, I am delighted to be with you today to mark the opening of the Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) course.
Sexual violence in conflict is as a central issue in today’s global society. Rape and sexual violence have been, and are being 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, the guilty feel they can act with impunity.
As the UK, we recognize these challenges. Many of you will be aware of the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative (PSVI), launched by our former Foreign Secretary William Hague in May 2012, aimed precisely at ending this culture of impunity. That year, the UK committed to spend £5 million on PSVI projects globally -through the Human Rights and Democracy Programme over three years. The UK has since committed a further £1.6 million for PSVI projects globally in the FY 2015-16.
Through its presidency of the G8 in 2013, the UK worked to achieve greater international attention and commitment to dealing with this issue. During the UK’s Presidency of the UN Security Council in 2013, the Council adopted resolution 2106 listing a series of actions to improve the UN response to sexual violence in conflict.
Also in 2013, we launched the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict during the 68th session of the UN General Assembly. 155 countries have endorsed this, agreeing that there should be no peace agreements that give amnesty to those who have ordered or carried out rape. As a result, suspects wanted for war zone rape can now be arrested in any of these countries. We recognize in this the support of the African Union and many countries represented here today.
Most recently, 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 on war, and to begin to change global attitudes to these crimes.
We believe peace support operations are a valuable and effective factor in reducing sexual violence in conflict. That is why we are committed to tackling sexual violence in conflict and recognize the importance of empowering and equipping peace support operations to fulfil their protection of civilians mandate to include capabilities of tackling sexual violence.
Like William Hague I believe, ‘tackling sexual violence is central to conflict prevention and peace-building worldwide. We will not succeed in building sustainable peace… unless we give the issue of sexual violence the centrality it deserves.’
I applaud the excellent work of IPSTC and BPST (EA) in leading the way towards ensuring peace and support operations in the East African Standby force countries get the skills and capabilities required to effectively tackle sexual violence in conflict.
I acknowledge the commitment and enthusiasm by the course participants and facilitators in this regard. The UK is extremely glad to support the good work you are all doing, and I wish you every continued success.