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Britain Launches Anti-Rape Unit For War Zones

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The government said it planned to use the UK presidency of the G8 next year to promote practical ways of tackling sexual violence in war zones.
The government said it planned to use the UK presidency of the G8 next year to promote practical ways of tackling sexual violence in war zones.

The British government is launching an initiative aimed at helping victims of sexual violence in war zones.

Rape has been used as a weapon of war against women, men and children in conflicts across the world, including Congo, Rwanda and former Yugoslavia.

A UK team of experts will be created by the end of this year drawn from professions such as the police, lawyers, psychologists, doctors and forensic experts aimed at helping international efforts to gather evidence on sexual violence in conflict zones.

Members would also be able to help in mentoring and training organisations tackling sexual violence and provide expertise in drafting legislation aimed at strengthening sanctions against perpetrators.

The government said it planned to use the UK presidency of the G8 next year to promote practical ways of tackling sexual violence in war zones.

A Tearfund report Silent No More published last year outlined United Nations statistics showing that worldwide one in five women will become a victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime.

During the war in Congo, around 200,000 women and girls were raped but in spite of the war ending in 2003, in 2010 alone 8,000 women and girls were raped amid continuing conflict in the country.

During the Rwandan genocide in 1994, between 250,000 and 500,000 people were sexually assaulted and in Liberia sexual violence was "recognised weapon of war", the report said.

In spite of widespread sexual violence in war zones, conviction rates remain "far too low" according to the Foreign Office.

Margot Wallstrom, special representative of the United Nations secretary-general on sexual violence in conflict, said in November that there have been only 30 convictions in spite of an estimated 50,000 rapes committed during the Balkans conflict.

Angelina Jolie is to give her support today to the launch, speaking before an advance screening hosted by Foreign Secretary William Hague of her film In The Land Of Blood And Honey, a love story set against the backdrop of the Bosnia war.

The film shows the brutality of the war and is said to depict summary executions and the systematic rape of Muslim and Croat women.

The event at the Foreign Office in London, for a specially invited audience of senior public figures, lawyers and human rights campaigners, marks a new government initiative aimed at helping secure more prosecutions against perpetrators of sexual violence in conflict zones across the world.

Jolie, a special envoy for the United Nations refugee agency, said earlier this month that she was "grateful and proud" to be officially named an honorary citizen of Sarajevo as a result of her film, her directorial debut.

Hague said: "Sexual violence is a problem found in every society in the world, and all countries have to do more to tackle it at home.

"We have to ensure equal rights for women at every level of society, and to protect the vulnerable, most of all our children.

"But it is in the context of war and conflict that sexual violence is found to the most appalling degree, and on a scale most of us cannot imagine."

He added: "Sexual violence is an issue which is central to conflict prevention and to peace building worldwide.

"Where there is no justice, the seeds of future conflict are sown, and development is held back."

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