The London Summit on Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict has been dubbed ‘a landmark opportunity to strengthen global efforts to end rape in war’
UN special envoy Angelina Jolie and UK Foreign Secretary William Hague launched the four-day event, the fruit of a two-year long campaign, on June 10.
The organisers called for an end to a ‘culture of impunity’ and asked that governments be held to account for ongoing sexual violence in war zones.
“The terrible human cost for civilians caught in conflict is even greater for women and girls, who often face sexual violence from all sides and have nowhere to turn for protection,” said Liesl Gerntholtz, women’s rights director at Human Rights Watch. “The London summit will only be a success if the pledges countries make to end the scourge of rape in war are translated into concrete action.”
Mr Hague stated that the purpose of the summit was to draw attention to the widespread use of sexual violence in armed conflicts.
The event was said to be the largest ever gathering of governments, United Nations agencies, activists, and donors to discuss how to prevent and respond to sexual violence.
Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie made a statement at the opening of the summit saying that women around the world were “united in this fight together.”
“For the children of rape – we want the whole world to hear their stories and understand that this injustice cannot be tolerated, and that sorrow and compassion are not enough,” Ms Jolie stated.
The actress added that government representatives from around the world would hear accounts of sexual violence victims during the conference. She said she hoped that as a result governments would not only be “forced to act, but that they will also deeply want to and be moved and be committed.”
Human Rights Watch has documented sexual violence in armed conflicts by government forces and non-state armed groups in countries such as Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo and Syria. Efforts to hold attackers to account and medical and rehabilitation services for victims have largely been inadequate.
Countries with armed conflicts should make clear they will arrest and prosecute those responsible for sexual violence, including officers with command responsibility for attackers within their troops, Human Rights Watch said.
The international community has made progress in recognising the prevalence of sexual violence and taken steps to address it. Rape in conflict is prosecuted as a war crime and a crime against humanity, and the UN Security Council passed a resolution in 2008 expressing its willingness to “adopt appropriate steps” to address widespread or systematic sexual violence.
“Progress has been made in addressing sexual violence in war, but as women in Congo, Somalia, and elsewhere know only too well, it’s not enough,” Gerntholtz said.
“Governments need to promote full equality for women and girls, step up their efforts to prevent sexual abuse in conflict situations, and address the health, protection, and justice needs of survivors.”