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Is it possible to end sexual violence in conflict?

This week, more than 150 ministers from across the world, along with the star power of Angelina Jolie converged on London for a summit on ending sexual violence in conflict, hosted by the UK government. But what will the conference achieve? Is it possible to end sexual violence in conflict?

Sexual violence in conflict destroys lives and damages communities. The Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, is the largest gathering ever brought together on the subject, with a view to creating irreversible momentum against sexual violence in conflict and practical action that impacts those on the ground.

The Issue

Sexual violence in conflict is a uniquely destructive act and method of war. Survivors who have gone through the trauma of an attack too often also face rejection by their families and reprisals from their communities. Moreover, sexual violence in conflict often flows from underlying inequalities. Further, a society that believes in human rights for all human beings and opportunities for all its citizens cannot know about the way rape is used as a weapon of war and then simply ignore it.

Sexual violence in conflict poses a grave threat to international peace and security too. It exacerbates tension and violence and undermines stability. It is prohibited under international law: under specific provisions of the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols, and under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.  Although it is and has been a feature of most conflicts, it has only recently been discussed openly in international conflict-prevention discourse. Yet it can undermine ceasefires, and prevent lasting reconciliation long after the last bullets have been fired. It affects not only women and girls, but also men and boys.

Thus sexual violence has a devastating impact on societies already traumatised by war, and overwhelming social, psychological and economic consequences for those it affects. All too often the stigma and shame associated with sexual violence remains with the victim rather than the perpetrator. By undermining reconciliation, deepening grievances and devastating communities, sexual violence feeds a cycle of conflict.

The British Foreign Secretary William Hague and Special Envoy of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Angelina Jolie have closed the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict.

The Special Envoy said:

"There is no doubt, after these four days, that we know what to do:

  • We need to entrench the international protocol, so that we begin to deter these crimes and end impunity.
  • We need to put survivors in the forefront of our efforts – not as victims, but as inspiring and resilient people who can guide us to the right choices and decisions.
  • We need to pool our expertise and close the gaps in our laws and capabilities."

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