News

November 29, 2022

UK leads global action to tackle sexual violence in conflict

BRITISH Foreign Secretary, James Cleverly, yesterday announced new support to prevent sexual violence in conflict, at an international conference in London.

He also  launched a new three-year strategy putting survivors at the centre of tackling the crime around the world.

Attendees include Nadia Murad, a survivor of sexual violence in conflict, her fellow Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Dr Denis Mukwege, and HRH The Countess of Wessex.

Angelina Jolie delivered a video message at the conference.

Foreign Secretary brought representatives from around 70 countries  to drive forward urgent action to tackle the scourge of sexual violence in conflict, including in Ukraine, Ethiopia and Colombia.

New evidence has shown that an estimated 20 to 30 per cent of women and girls in conflict-affected settings experience sexual violence.

Nadia Murad and Dr Denis Mukwege – who won a joint Nobel Peace Prize for their work to combat sexual violence, attended the parley, alongside the Countess of Wessex and International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan. 

Other survivors, government ministers and representatives of NGOs were also in attendance to share what they had learned and agree a united response to prevent atrocities from taking place in future.

This week’s conference marks 10 years of the UK Government’s landmark Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative (PSVI).

When opening the conference, the Foreign Secretary will announce a new three-year strategy to tackle sexual violence in conflict which will be backed by up to £12.5 million of new funding.

Developed with survivors, experts in the field, parliamentarians, academics, and NGOs, the strategy focuses on tackling these crimes in seven key countries: Ukraine, Bosnia, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Iraq and South Sudan.

In his address at the conference, Cleverly said:  “The very threat of rape and sexual violence as a weapon of war should bring immediate international condemnation, and swift action to stop those attacks before they start.

“So today, we stand in solidarity, to support survivors and to bring justice. But also to send an unequivocal message to those who order, allow or perpetrate sexual violence: we will not tolerate it and we will push for perpetrators to be prosecuted.”

The UK has been at the vanguard of efforts to combat conflict-related sexual violence for the past decade, ever since former Foreign Secretary William Hague and Angelina Jolie jointly launched PSVI in 2012. Angelina Jolie will deliver a video message at the conference, and Lord Hague will speak in person on the 29th.

Since then, the UK has supported nearly 100 projects across 29 countries – from safe shelters in Bosnia, to judicial support in Iraq and Colombia, and training for peacekeepers in East Africa.

The current situation in Ukraine, as well as recent events in Afghanistan and Ethiopia, demonstrate that work to combat conflict-related sexual violence is still as important as ever.

Last week the Foreign Secretary announced on a visit to Ukraine an additional £3.45m towards projects in the country and the wider region, much of which will go towards addressing sexual and reproductive health.

In a message to the conference Angelina Jolie said:  “When human beings are physically assaulted in this way, and in some countries for decades, there has to be a decisive global response. 

”When there isn’t, it sends a message to both the victim and the perpetrator that we don’t truly regard this as a significant crime that needs to be punished and prevented. So this conference should in my view, take a hard look at what has succeeded and what has not.”

For Dr. Mukwege, Medical Director at Panzi Hospital and 2018 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, ”the PSVI Conference is organised so that all of us attending in London can listen to survivors’ voices. This is not the first conference where survivors have spoken up demanding justice, but I hope it will be one of the last – we need to attend as we count down to end wartime sexual violence.

“We are all here today because of survivors. All of them attending this conference represent thousands of others awaiting care, justice and reparations. Very few survivors have received the holistic care – including justice – that they deserve. As the survivors are sharing their recommendations, requests, and opinions, I ask everyone not only to listen to them but also pledge a commitment to act and support their demands.”

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Nadia Murad said:  “It’s time to use every tool we have: sanctions, international trials, and universal jurisdiction to show that sexual violence in conflict will not be tolerated.

“We must make state and non-state actors think twice about the consequences of these crimes. Ending the status quo of impunity is essential for preventing people around the world from being subjected to experiences like mine.”