Hosted by the British government, the four-day Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict has begun in London. The event is the biggest of its kind, with representatives from more than 100 countries as well as hundreds of experts, survivors, faith leaders and staff from NGOs and international organizations.
UNICEF has reported that over 150 million young girls and 73 million boys face sexual violence every year. Those living in nations devastated by conflict are especially vulnerable. Forty percent of Congolese women have been subjected to some form of sexual violence during their lives.
In South Sudan, rape has been used as a weapon by both sides of the recent conflict. An estimated 250,000 to 500,000 women were raped during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Approximately 20,000 to 50,000 women were raped during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the early 1990s. However, very few perpetrators are ever prosecuted or convicted for their actions. Around the world, there is a culture of silence and denial that contributes to continued war zone rape and allows rapists to avoid the consequences.
Hollywood star Angelina Jolie, who serves as a special envoy for the United Nations, co-chaired the summit with Foreign Secretary William Hague of the United Kingdom. Jolie urged the international community to focus on efforts to hold the perpetrators of sexual violence accountable. “They feel above the law because the law rarely touches them and society tolerates them… we must send a message around the world that there is no disgrace in being a survivor of sexual violence – that the shame is on the aggressor.”
The organizers of the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict have four major goals: ending the “culture of impunity” by developing and reaching a consensus on an international protocol for documenting and investigating sexual violence in war and conflict zones, training soldiers and peacekeepers to protect women from rape, expanding support for victims, survivors and human rights activists and reaching a “seismic shift” in the global attitude toward sexual violence so that the issue is recognized and addressed on a large scale. To inspire people around the world to recognize its damaging effects on international peace and security, Hague announced a pledge of $10 million from the government of the United Kingdom to help support rape survivors in conflict zones.
David Bull, Executive Director of UNICEF UK, has stated that the summit marks a “watershed in the global fight against the horrors of sexual violence in conflict.” Other key international leaders and activist groups have joined the effort to raise awareness of the abuse of women and children in war, but practical follow-up action is crucial to make a real difference. More nations should devise concrete plans to address the issue of sexual violence, challenge impunity and support the survivors.
As Jolie stated, “it is a myth that rape is an inevitable part of conflict. There’s nothing inevitable about it. It is a weapon of war aimed at civilians. It has nothing to do with sex, everything to do with power.”
— Kristy Liao