As part of this initiative, in partnership with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, we hosted this high-level meeting at which the UK Foreign Secretary, William Hague, gave a keynote address. UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Angelina Jolie also joined the conference.
An increased understanding and awareness of sexual violence as a tactic and weapon of war has grown in the international consciousness over the past few years. There is now increased momentum from the international community to break the silence of sexual violence in conflict, combat a culture of impunity and shift the balance of shame from the survivors to the perpetrators.
On 29 May 2012 the British government launched a new initiative at a critical time aimed at preventing sexual violence in conflict. The UK Foreign Secretary, William Hague, considers this a vital issue that needs to be tackled, with more international commitment and motivation, since; “where there is no justice or dignity for survivors, development is held back, and the seeds of future conflict are sown.”
The primary objective of the UK’s initiative is to quash the culture of impunity by:
(i) increasing the number of perpetrators brought to justice both internationally and nationally
(ii) strengthening international efforts and co-ordination
(iii) supporting nation states to build their capacity to address sexual violence
Britain will use its G8 Presidency in 2013 to increase awareness and seek greater global commitment to meet these objectives. The UK has already proposed a new International Protocol on the investigation and documentation of sexual violence in conflict.
One of the key objectives of the conference was to identify where global leadership on this issue could make a difference; particularly with practical and institutional changes to establish a new culture of deterrence. The conference aimed to disseminate a broad and deep understanding of a complex problem and for those experienced in this area to share lessons learned in both local and international contexts. These discussions have further informed and shaped the UK initiative.
An impromptu session on Syria addressed concerns that not enough was being done to prevent and protect Syrians from the conflict related sexual violence. Recommendations from the Syria session were presented to the Foreign Secretary at the conference. These are presented in full later in this report.
Participants at this high level meeting comprised representatives from the United Nations, national governments, policy makers and practitioners, representatives from civil society organisations, legal experts and academics. Speakers included the Secretary General’s Special Representative (SRSG) on Sexual Violence in Conflict and the Special Representative on Children in Armed Conflict. The UK Foreign Secretary gave a keynote speech at the conference. Welcome remarks were made by Lynne Featherstone, the Parliamentary Under Secretary for the Department for International Development (DfID) and Ministerial Champion for Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls Overseas.