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A call for practical action to end sexual violence in conflict

A call for practical action to end sexual violence in conflict
Published 12 Jun 2014 

Our TV screens this week are carrying many reports from the Global Summit to end Sexual Violence in Conflict currently taking place in London. It helps to have Angela Jolie, Special Envoy of the UK High Commissioner for Refugees, involved. But the high level international participation at the summit reflects a widespread determination to do something about this dreadful scourge.

Using rape as a weapon of war is one of the most horrific crimes imaginable. It is used to terrorise, to humiliate, to ethnically cleanse. It happens all around the world, wherever conflict occurs. Just 20 years ago in Europe, as many as 50,000 women and girls were raped in the Bosnian conflict, yet to this day there have only been 30 convictions. The victims of sexual violence are sometimes men and boys too, but the vast majority of victims are women and girls. While the attackers usually walk away unpunished, the victims silently bear stigma and shame alongside their suffering.

That is why British Foreign Secretary William Hague has put the issue on the international table with a call for clear practical action to prevent these crimes. His appeal struck a chord. Already three quarters of the UN membership have signed up to the UN General Assembly Declaration of Commitment to end Sexual Violence in Conflict. At this week's summit, Hague launched the new International Protocol on the Investigation and Documentation of Sexual Violence in Conflict, a practical tool to ensure that evidence is collected, prosecutions mounted and survivors supported. [fold]

Over the last year, Britain has deployed international experts to places like the Syrian borders, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo. The teams draw on the skills of doctors, lawyers, police, psychologists, forensic specialists and experts in the care and protection of survivors and witnesses. They have been helping to build capacity by training healthcare professionals and human rights defenders in the documentation of crimes, investigation standards and the collection and study of forensic evidence.

A European Union Training Mission in Mali has trained two battalions of soldiers in international humanitarian and human rights law. Britain has given £1 million to support the work of the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Bangura. Our aid agency, the Department for International Development (DFID), has launched a £25 million Research and Innovation Fund to help address violence against women in conflict.

The summit will look for agreement by the international community in four specific areas:

  • Improving the investigation and documentation of sexual violence in conflict.
  • Providing greater support, assistance and reparation for survivors, including child survivors.
  • Ensuring that responses to sexual and gender-based violence, and the promotion of gender equality, are fully integrated into peace and security efforts.
  • Improving strategic coordination on this issue internationally.

Last week at Parliament House in Canberra, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and I co-hosted a Dialogue on this issue with representatives from the military, government and civil society. It was a strong sign of Australia's commitment to action. Australia is being represented at the London Summit by Natasha Stott Despoja, Ambassador for Women and Girls, and by Lt Gen David Morrison, Chief of Army. 

The summit is not just about changing laws, it is about changing attitudes. We want to create a groundswell of public opinion around the world to end the culture of impunity and ensure justice  is done.

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