The UK is setting up a special rapid deployment unit to collect evidence on mass rape used as a weapon during global conflicts, as part of a broader initiative that was to be launched yesterday to combat sexual war crimes of the kind seen in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, central Africa and now in Syria.
The team of experts being created by the UK’s Foreign Office will be drawn from a pool of British police, forensic experts, doctors, psychologists and lawyers and is expected to be in action by the end of this year, ready to be sent to war zones at short notice wherever there are signs of sexual abuse on a large scale.
One of their first destinations could well be Syria where British Foreign Secretary William Hague said there were “horrifying reports” of rape beginning to emerge.
“Despite the valiant efforts of many individuals and organizations, the perpetrators of the worst sexual crimes generally go unpunished,” Hague was scheduled say at the launch of the initiative last night, according to early extracts of his speech released by the Foreign Office. “We want to use Britain’s influence and diplomatic capability to rally effective international action.”
The team will initially be funded out of a ￡20 million (US$31.4 million) urgent action fund, part of UK contingency spending set aside for helping mitigate the impact of global conflicts. The UK also intends to use its presidency of the G8 next year to persuade other countries and organizations to put more resources into the fight against rape worldwide.
US actress Angelina Jolie was also scheduled to speak at the launch at the Foreign Office, where there will be an advance UK screening of her film about the rape camps in the Bosnia war, In the Land of Blood and Honey. Up to 50,000 women are estimated to have been raped during the 1992 to 1995 conflict, but there have been only 30 prosecutions specifically for sex war crimes.
During the Rwanda genocide, the UN estimates that at least 250,000 women were raped. More than 50,000 were raped in Sierra Leone in the 1990s, while almost half of all Liberian women have reported being the victim of at least one act of physical or sexual violence by a soldier or paramilitary fighter.
Two years ago the UN appointed a special representative on sexual violence in conflict, Margot Wallstrom, who named the worst offenders in her report to the UN Security Council in February, including the Lord’s Resistance Army in the Central African Republic and South Sudan, various militias in Ivory Coast, and the armed forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.