At the first ever Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, attended by over 900 experts, faith leaders, international organizations and survivors from more than 100 countries, sexual violence in conflict was addressed as a serious war crime.
Held in London and co-chaired by British Foreign Secretary William Hague and Special Envoy for the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees Angelina Jolie, the Summit built off the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, which was endorsed by two-thirds of the U.N. member states in September 2013.
The Summit aimed to end the culture of impunity and address the serious ramifications of sexual violence on a population. A new International Protocol was put forward to strengthen prosecutions for those who commit acts of sexual violence during war. The protocol also creates guidelines to train peacekeepers and soldiers who work in conflict zones to be better equipped to handle populations who are at risk for sexual violence.
Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking on the final day of the Summit, drew lessons from history to encourage the possibility of ending this type of violence in conflict. Advocating for a zero-tolerance policy toward sexual violence, ending impunity and providing more support for survivors, he stated, “we can establish new norms that respect women, girls, men and boys. And we can hold those who commit these acts and those who condone them – we can hold them all accountable.”
One important factor in addressing sexual violence in conflict is poverty. Many conflict zones today where sexual violence is most rampant are in countries with high levels of poverty, which affects women in particular. Women who have to walk home alone late at night, whose only access to a bathroom is outside of their home or who must walk long distances to collect firewood are vulnerable to attacks, both during times of peace and especially during times of conflict.
Countries that lack strong justice systems and where women, girls and men do not have access to strong education systems or who are not major players in economic activity are left vulnerable to these types of acts of violence, with no or little support after the conflict ends.
The Summit was an important step in beginning to address the issue and provide resources to women and men who are affected by sexual violence in conflict. As Secretary Kerry stated: “Acts of sexual violence demean our collective humanity.”
Therefore, ending impunity, providing resources for victims and eradicating poverty are all measures that will help end the practice of sexual violence as a tactic of war. Working to achieve environments where women and men are economically empowered, are able to receive an education and are more secure in their everyday activities are important factors that will contribute to a decrease in instances of sexual violence in conflict.
— Andrea Blinkorn
Sources: Gov.uk 1, Gov.uk 2, US Embassy, The Guardian, All Africa