The Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict on 10-13 June 2014 at ExCeL London will be the largest gathering ever brought together on this subject. Foreign Secretary William Hague will co-chair the summit with Angelina Jolie, Special Envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

All the governments that have endorsed the UN Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict will be invited, as will legal, military and judicial practitioners and representatives from multilateral organisations, NGOs and civil society.

The Summit aims to create irreversible momentum against sexual violence in conflict and deliver practical action that impacts those on the ground. Read more about the aims of the Summit.

You can follow the latest updates on the Summit on our End Sexual Violence in Conflict Facebook page, and @end_svc on Twitter.

The Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict on 10-13 June 2014 at ExCeL London will be the largest gathering ever brought together on this subject. Foreign Secretary William Hague will co-chair the summit with Angelina Jolie, Special Envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

All the governments that have endorsed the UN Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict will be invited, as will legal, military and judicial practitioners and representatives from multilateral organisations, NGOs and civil society.

The Summit aims to create irreversible momentum against sexual violence in conflict and deliver practical action that impacts those on the ground. Read more about the aims of the Summit.

You can follow the latest updates on the Summit on our End Sexual Violence in Conflict Facebook page, and @end_svc on Twitter.

The use of rape as a weapon of war has led to its normalisation, thereby eroding all limits and social constraints against sexual and gender-based violence, worsening the phenomenon and its consequences for women.
Julienne Lusenge, a human rights defender working for the eradication of sexual and gender-based violence in Democratic Republic of Congo, writes about international efforts to bring together governments, civil society organisations, and UN agencies to fight against sexual violence.
Read Julienne Lusenge’s blog.

UN Human Rights Day

In a statement marking UN Human Rights Day, Foreign Secretary William Hague has committed to using the UK seat on the UN Human Rights Council to uphold human rights for all.

UN Human Rights Council, Geneva. Photo by United Nations Photo
UN Human Rights Council, Geneva. Photo by United Nations Photo

Foreign Secretary William Hague said:

"Human Rights Day marks the anniversary of one of the great accomplishments of the last century, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It proclaimed a simple, powerful ideal: that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.

"The sad death of Nelson Mandela reminds us again of the sacrifices that have been made by individuals and by nations to improve human rights in the world throughout our common history. Promoting human rights and democratic values is a central objective of UK foreign policy, as well as a crucial factor in ending conflict and building stability worldwide. It is because of this attachment to human rights that I have made campaigning to end sexual violence in conflict – one of the most neglected injustices in history – my personal priority.

"In January the UK will again take its seat on the UN Human Rights Council. We will use our seat to continue to combat the rising tide of restrictions on the freedom of religion or belief worldwide, to promote women’s rights and participation in peace processes, to work towards global abolition of the death penalty, and to focus on practical initiatives to prevent torture worldwide. We will also work to urge more states to take action to implement the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, as we have in the UK by publishing our Action Plan earlier this year.

"Above all we will strive to be a powerful example of a country that upholds human rights and fundamental freedom throughout every aspect of our diplomatic engagement overseas."

Everyone needs to take part in the effort to reduce violence against women and girls…If we don’t collectively address these issues, and women’s rights aren’t improved, Somalia will not be able to move forward and become the country it deserves to be.
British Ambassador Neil Wigan blogs about the UK’s work on preventing sexual violence in Somalia, including funding of £1 million for a range of projects aimed at support for survivors and training and capacity building for health workers and legal services.
Read more in Neil Wigan’s blog

Preventing Sexual Violence in conflict in Burma

British Ambassador to Burma Andrew Patrick writes about the UK’s work to improve access to justice for survivors of sexual violence in Burma.

Sexual violence in conflict is sadly not a new phenomenon. Nor is conflict in Burma. As Burma continues its reform process, there is a window of opportunity to make progress on this issue and help with reconciliation in the country.

The British Embassy is proud to be funding a project through ActionAid Myanmar which will improve access to justice for women survivors as well as developing mechanisms in the community to prevent and respond to acts of sexual violence. The project will benefit women and girls in Kachin and Kayah, Rakhine and Meikthila, and Pyapon.

Why is this important?

It is crucial to increase the knowledge about sexual violence in communities so they are able to prevent and respond to violence against woman appropriately. In 40 target villages we will help ensure people understand that sexual violence is unacceptable and inform the public about their legal rights and about how to access services, including access to justice.

Promoting women’s empowerment and political participation in Burma. Photo by ActionAid Myanmar
Promoting women’s empowerment and political participation in Burma. Photo by ActionAid Myanmar

We are funding training so that 60 women will have basic legal skills, and funding paralegals and legal aid centres in these four targeted conflict areas. The trainees will work in their communities to bring this issue to light, provide advice to survivors on how to access legal services and other support services. An additional Legal Aid Resource Centre will be established in Rangoon. This will enable legal aid providers to access legal reference materials so they can do their jobs effectively.

Community leaders from diverse backgrounds, as well as local government staff, will participate in workshops and receive psychosocial training to gain a better understanding of their influential role in preventing sexual violence in their own community.

Taking action on this issue also supports our existing work on the wider peace process in conflicted areas such as Kachin State.

We hope that the Burmese Government will strengthen their own responses to sexual violence and join the UK and other countries in rallying to put an end to sexual violence in conflict once and for all.

Documenting sexual violence in the Syrian conflict

Taree' al Bab, Aleppo, March 2013. Credit: Basma

This blog was written by a member of the team of UK PSVI Experts, recently deployed to the Syrian border to provide training and support to doctors and lawyers who are working with survivors of sexual violence. To protect the individuals involved the author’s name has been withheld.

In a year which has seen the devastating effect of chemical warfare in Syria, the death-toll of Syrian children in the conflict reach over 11,000, and the number of Syrians displaced over the borders exceed 2 million, I have found myself, as a member of the UK PSVI’s Team of Experts, honoured to work with, and constantly amazed by, a group of dedicated and extremely resilient Syrian doctors and lawyers.

"The primary aim of this project is to produce medical documentation of the physical and psychological harm inflicted on victims of torture and sexual violence in the Syrian conflict, which can be used as evidence in future criminal proceedings."

During 2012 and 2013, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office has funded and supported a project on the Syrian borders run by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), a US-based NGO with a well-established record in training doctors to document torture and sexual violence. The primary aim of this project is to produce medical documentation of the physical and psychological harm inflicted on victims of torture and sexual violence in the Syrian conflict, which can be used as evidence in future criminal proceedings. While contemporaneous medical documentation is rare during conflict, it can be extremely useful in proving torture and sexual violence which often occur in secret or are cloaked in silence or taboo.

Discussion of sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) is a sensitive matter in most cultures. In almost every society, cultural and traditional beliefs surrounding sexual violence cause further harm to survivors and can isolate them from much-needed support. This is particularly so in places where the survivors can face recriminations and rejection from their families and their communities, or even the threat of honour killings. As the UN Commission of Inquiry for Syria found, “under-reporting and delayed reporting of sexual violence are endemic.” It is incredibly important for survivors who are prepared to report what has happened to them to be supported and their stories to be received without judgement. The Syrian doctors and lawyers being trained have been unfailingly open to discussing and finding ways to address these difficult issues.

"It is incredibly important for survivors who are prepared to report what has happened to them to be supported and their stories to be received without judgement."

In addition to documenting sexual violence in Syria during the conflict, these trained professionals will have the skills to address SGBV which may also occur as an indirect consequence of the conflict. In the countries surrounding Syria, there are now extremely vulnerable, displaced populations, with high numbers of female-headed households and children sent out to work. These groups are at serious risk for SGBV.

The multi-disciplinary UK PSVI team working on this project included an experienced clinical psychologist, whose involvement has allowed the doctors and lawyers to recognise and be sensitive to the psychological impact of trauma to the survivors whose injuries they document. They can also now begin to understand and address the effects of their own experiences, and of the secondary trauma to them of the work they now bravely undertake.

When asked to express some of their frustrations with this work and with their situation, our Syrian colleagues, instead, spoke of hope for their beloved country, of return to their homes and the need for them to work together to bring an end to this war. Sometimes as trainers, we are lucky enough to find the most valuable lessons come from those we train.

'History's greatest silence' - UN Special Representative Zainab Bangura speaks about international efforts to end sexual violence in conflict.

Zainab Bangura, UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in ConflictZainab Bangura, UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, talks about her work and about international efforts to end the culture of impunity for warzone rape. Recorded at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London, November 2013.

"I have seen with my own eyes the devastation this crime inflicts, not just on individuals, but on entire communities…

"Sexual violence in conflict knows no geographical borders. From Colombia to Bosnia, from Cambodia to Democratic Republic of Congo; it knows no gender or age limits. Men and boys have also been victims, and I have met survivors as young as six months and women as old as 70 years."

- Zainab Bangura

Developing the International Protocol on the Documentation and Investigation of Sexual Violence in Conflict

Chido Dunn, FCO International Protocol Project Coordinator, writes about the challenges of documenting and investigating crimes of sexual violence in conflict and the purpose of the International Protocol.

The political campaign for the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative is underpinned by essential practical work. We have programmes of support for conflict-affected countries to help governments and civil society to deliver effective responses to sexual violence and we are developing an International Protocol on the Documentation and Investigation of Sexual Violence in Conflict.

Judith, survivor of sexual violence in conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Photos credit Adel Sarkozi, CARE International UK
Photo credit Adel Sarkozi, CARE International UK

"Our objective is to create a consistent set of guidelines that are used by first responders to ensure that survivors of these attacks receive consistent and sympathetic responses but also that information that is collected from them (physical and testimony) is taken and stored in a way that assists future prosecutions or other justice mechanisms."

Our objective is to create a consistent set of guidelines that are used by first responders to ensure that survivors of these attacks receive consistent and sympathetic responses but also that information that is collected from them (physical and testimony) is taken and stored in a way that assists future prosecutions or other justice mechanisms.

Development of the International Protocol is progressing at a pace. In May (in The Hague), June (in London) and July (in The Hague) we held consultations with experts to agree the content of the Protocol. In September (in Geneva) we held consultations with State representatives at the United Nations to discuss some of the challenges in documenting and investigating crimes of the sexual violence in conflict and the purpose of the International Protocol.

A range of experts have provided us with some useful feedback and guidance, all of which we are feeding into the International Protocol. A developed draft should be sent to the experts for review in a matter of weeks. We look forward to working with them over the next few months to develop further the language and to make some concrete plans for testing and implementation. We have already started the process, and have made initial plans with our Embassy and NGO network to take the International Protocol to Africa and Asia for field-testing in early 2014. Watch this space for further plans to test the Protocol internationally in the coming months.

"This will be one of many practical steps that can be taken to help ensure that sexual violence is no longer a feature of conflict in the 21st century."

The International Protocol will be launched at the London Summit on Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict, which the UK will host in June 2014. The Foreign Secretary will use the London Summit and the surrounding global momentum on the issue to ask all countries to ensure the implementation of the International Protocol. This will be one of many practical steps that can be taken to help ensure that sexual violence is no longer a feature of conflict in the 21st century.

Chido Dunn is on secondment to the FCO’s Conflict Department from Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer.

137 countries, over two thirds of all the members of the United Nations, have now endorsed the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict.
These countries have promised not to enter into or support peace agreements that give amnesty for rape. Suspects can be arrested in any of these countries, all of whom have now recognised rape and serious sexual violence as grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, so that the principle of universal jurisdiction applies.
They will support new global efforts to give aid and justice for survivors.
Every UN peacekeeping mission will now automatically include the protection of civilians against sexual violence in conflict, for the first time.
All 137 countries have also agreed to support the development of the new International Protocol on the Investigation and Documentation of Sexual Violence in conflict proposed by the UK.

137 countries, over two thirds of all the members of the United Nations, have now endorsed the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict.

These countries have promised not to enter into or support peace agreements that give amnesty for rape. Suspects can be arrested in any of these countries, all of whom have now recognised rape and serious sexual violence as grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, so that the principle of universal jurisdiction applies.

They will support new global efforts to give aid and justice for survivors.

Every UN peacekeeping mission will now automatically include the protection of civilians against sexual violence in conflict, for the first time.

All 137 countries have also agreed to support the development of the new International Protocol on the Investigation and Documentation of Sexual Violence in conflict proposed by the UK.

The UK Government is calling for international action to address the problem of sexual violence in conflict.

The Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative was launched by UK Foreign Secretary William Hague and UN Special Envoy for Refugees Angelina Jolie in 2012.

The Initiative is working to replace the culture of impunity for sexual violence committed in conflict with one of deterrence - by increasing the number of perpetrators brought to justice both internationally and nationally; by strengthening international efforts and co-ordination to prevent and respond to sexual violence; and by supporting states to build their national capacity. #TimetoAct

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