"We are trying to do something that has never been done before -- to change the entire global attitude towards sexual violence in conflict," William Hague, UK Foreign Secretary.
This week an unlikely duo take to the stage in London. Special Envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Angelina Jolie and British Foreign Secretary William Hague are co-chairing the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict on 10-12 June. In a fortnight where we have seen daily sexual violence against women hitting the headlines around the world: the horrific gang-rape and hanging of two young girls in India, apparently ignored by police; a pregnant woman stoned to death by her own family outside Lahore's High Court in Pakistan; a pregnant woman sentenced to death for being Christian in Sudan having to give birth in shackles. These horrific stories are happening in countries supposed to be "at peace." One can only imagine what happens to the vulnerable in a society when law and order collapses altogether and sexual assault and rape are utilised as just another weapon in the arsenal of war.
Representatives from The Great Initiativehttp://www.thegreatinitiative.org.uk, of which I am co-founder and co-trustee will be in attendance at ExCel to hear how the British Government is again leading the way in pushing the international gender equality debate onto a global stage. The summit brings together the power of Angela Jolie's celebrity alongside key world governments, doctors, judges, police officers, army personnel, lawyers, activists and survivors of the crimes of sexual violence. I think it is amazing Angelina Jolie is taking on this cause as a new battle as it so needs the world's attention and action.
"We want the impact of the summit to be felt around the world, so that far from any court or judge, men with guns will think twice before using rape as a weapon of war in the future. I hope Londoners will attend in strength -- the summit is open to everyone." William Hague.
More than 60 senior ministers and at least 230 other government delegates from around the globe are due to attend and at least 148 governments have endorsed a Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. But within the rhetoric will any practical changes be made? Organisers have pledged that the conference will have tangible effects on the ground around the world and not only for women and girls but also men and boys will receive more support. Unicef UK warned this week that children in conflict, both boys and girls, are growing up in a world in where sexual violence is often the norm. New research sponsored by the War Child charity found that one in three men fleeing the conflict in the DRC had been a victim of sexual violence.
Sexual violence as a weapon has been part of war for thousands of years. Using rape to demean and subjugate but to also enforce a change to geneaology and blood lines has been a long-utilised weapon by armies. However, whilst torture and other war crimes are often visibly prosecuted, very few perpetrators of sexual violence in civil wars and other conflicts are ever brought to justice, as the law and order systems in these countries often break down during fighting. The aim for the summit is that judicial systems within conflict zones are supported and evidence gathering is improved as this is so crucial to prosecuting and convicting more attackers. Armies will be urged to incorporate measures to stop sexual violence within training. Improved peacekeeping training will be supported, where often soldiers are often poorly trained to handle sexual violence and its effects or sometimes even complicit within it. Operations will be encouraged to provide support to local and grass-roots organisations and human rights defenders developing the deployment of international expertise to build national capacity, forming new partnerships to support conflict-affected countries.
Another key aim of the conference is to offer increased support for the victims of sexual violence and to tackle both the short and long-term legacy of sexual violence within countries such as Bosnia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Colombia. The summit will make the world-wide call that attitudes to sexual violence within conflict must change and to challenge the belief that rape is an inevitable consequence of war. Sexual violence destroys not only the lives of the victim and their families, it pulls apart communities and ravages entire countries. It is the hidden horror that manifests itself behind the closed doors of conflict, but its impact is as devastating as any bomb or gun.
The summit will also clearly situate the issue of sexual violence within conflict within the broader agenda of "Women, Peace and Security". The conference aims to make further progress in guaranteeing women's full economic, social and political rights and will launch the new International Protocol on the Investigation and Documentation of Sexual Violence in Conflict as a practical tool to help improve accountability and encourage its widespread use.
The Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict is open to the public over 3 days 10-12 June at London's Excel. I urge you to attend and lend your support and your voice.
Karen Ruimy is co-founder of The Great Initiative www.thegreatinitiative.org.uk