Sat, Jun 14, 2014 - Page 12 News List

Summit tackles sexual violence in war

A new protocol launched in London aims to write ‘the last chapter in the history of wartime rape’

By Harriet Sherwood  /  The Guardian

Somalian girls at a health center sit during a visit from Zainab Bangura, UN’s special representative on sexual violence in conflict, on April 2, 2013. In London on Wednesday, Bangura said conflict-related rape can no longer be considered “an inevitable by-product of war.”

Photo: AFP

International protocol for dealing with rape and sexual violence in conflict was launched on Wednesday at a historic London summit on the issue, providing guidelines on the investigation of sex crimes and the collection of evidence for future prosecutions.

“For decades — if not centuries — there has been a near-total absence of justice for survivors of rape and sexual violence in conflict. We hope this protocol will be part of a new global effort to shatter this culture of impunity, helping survivors and deterring people from committing these crimes in the first place,” UK foreign minister William Hague — who is co-hosting the summit with film star Angelina Jolie — wrote in a foreword to the 140-page protocol.

The Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict opened on Wednesday with 117 countries formally represented, plus scores of UN and aid agencies, civil society organizations, survivors, and nearly 2,000 delegates from around the world.

Zainab Bangura, the UN’s special representative on sexual violence in conflict, said conflict-related rape was no longer considered “a marginal issue, an inevitable by-product of war or mere collateral damage. It can no longer be amnestied or pardoned as the price of peace. It cannot be dismissed as a private matter. And the countless women, girls, men and boys affected can no longer be deemed second-class victims of a second-class crime.”

Bangura had witnessed the enduring effects of sexual violence in the civil war of Sierra Leone. “The scars that remain beneath the surface of society make peace less possible. We’re here today to write the last chapter in the history of wartime rape and to close the book once and for all on humanity’s tolerance for such inhumanity.”

To survivors, she said, “your voices are being heard. Wartime rape is now among the greatest global security priorities of our time.” To perpetrators, “we will pursue with every means at our disposal. There will no hiding place and no safe haven. Sooner or later, we will get you… This is not mission impossible.”

In a video message, Hillary Clinton paid tribute to Hague and Jolie as “formidable champions of this cause.” The summit was a historic opportunity to effect change, she added.

The protocol, funded by the UK government and the result of two years’ work, aims to provide best practice on the documentation of sexual violence. It includes practical advice, checklists and sample questions for fieldworkers.

For example, it provides a template for personal data to be collected from survivors and witnesses, tips on carrying out interviews and gathering testimonies, and guidance on photographing, filming and sketching crime scenes, and on the collection of physical evidence.

Around 25 experts were involved in compiling the protocol, whose contents were “field tested” in countries such as Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo before publication.

Humanitarian agencies at the London summit have documented the long-term physical and psychological effects of sexual violence in conflict, including the rejection of victims by their communities and the birth of children conceived during rape. Government troops and peacekeeping forces have not only failed to protect women from sexual violence, but have also been among the perpetrators, they say.

Jolie and Hague arrived together at the London summit on Wednesday morning. The pair later hosted a screening of Jolie’s 2012 film about rape in Bosnia, In the Land of Blood and Honey, which led to the foreign secretary’s espousal of the issue.

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