World leaders face pressure to act against sexual violence at UK summit

Reuters , Monday 9 Jun 2014

Sexual violence
Maria Eugenia Urrutia, head of the Association of Afro-Colombian women for Peace (Afromupaz), crosses a symbolic bridge during a therapy session she runs for rape survivors in Bogota, in April 2014. (Photo: Reuters)

The kidnapping of 200 Nigerian girls and several recent horrific murders of women are expected to raise pressure on the world community to take concrete action to punish those responsible for sexual violence at a global summit in London this week.

Invited by Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie and British Foreign Secretary William Hague, government ministers, military and judicial leaders and aid workers from about 150 nations will join the first global summit to end sexual violence in conflict.

The June 10-13 summit follows a run of shocking cases of violence against women including the kidnap of schoolgirls by Islamist Boko Haram, the stoning to death of a pregnant woman in Pakistan in a so-called "honour killing", and the gang-rape and murder of two Indian teenagers who were hanged from a tree.

Hague said too often those who committed these crimes never faced justice and the summit would agree the first international protocol on how to document and investigate sexual violence in conflicts.

"Often it is the lack of evidence that means that these things go unpunished," Hague told Sky television on Sunday.

"Now this will lead to prosecutions. None of this will be achieved overnight but this is a problem which has been getting worse in recent decades and is utterly unacceptable in the 21st century."

The conference, with 1,200 attendees including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, will be co-hosted by Hague and Jolie, special envoy of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), who joined forces in 2012 to tackle rape and sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict situations.

Oscar-winner Jolie's involvement in humanitarian issues dates back to 2001 when she travelled to Sierra Leone as a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador and was horrified to see the impact of years of civil war when an estimated 60,000 women were raped.


Unlikely Pair

The unlikely pair have travelled together to witness the legacy of sexual violence in war and the work to help victims.

Earlier this year they went to Bosnia where more than 100,000 people, most of them civilians, were killed in the 1992-95 war when an estimated 20,000 women were believed raped.

Figures from UNICEF estimate an average of 36 women and girls are raped daily in the Democratic Republic of Congo where up to 200,000 women have suffered sexual violence since 1998.

Alice Allan, head of advocacy at CARE International, said the world had been horrified by several recent cases of violence on women which would raise the bar at the summit.

"Violence against women is not new but social media has helped bring these cases to the fore and helped galvanise governments to commit to taking action," Allan told Reuters.

"These cases have been horrific but hopefully it will lead to greater action this week and public commitments from governments to which they will be held accountable."

The summit comes after Hague and Jolie last year launched a Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict that pledged to end impunity, promote accountability, and provide justice and safety for victims of sexual violence.

So far about 150 countries have signed the declaration that calls for funding to tackle violence and help survivors, improved collection of data and evidence for court action, and a ban on amnesties for sexual violence in peace agreements.

All signatory countries were invited to the London summit where the fate of the missing Nigerian schoolgirls will be debated at a ministerial meeting on Thursday.

But the need for concrete action after four days of talking at the summit was seen as critical if there was to be progress.

"Just because Burma signed the international declaration on sexual violence, it doesn't mean they will do anything about it. There should be a six-month deadline for seeing implementation of the declaration in Burma," said Zoya Phan, campaign manager at Burma Campaign UK. 

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