Actress Angelina Jolie, senior diplomats from over 100 countries, humanitarian groups and activists from all over the world gathered for the largest-ever global summit on ending sexual violence in war in London this week.
The four-day meeting closed with Secretary of State John Kerry giving the keynote address. In it he reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to the issue, telling the crowd, "You don't have to be a woman to advance the cause of justice and advance the cause of women around the world."
Rape as a weapon of war is considered a massive problem on a global scale, often a byproduct of the insecurity, poverty and general lawlessness in conflicts and there have been questions as to whether the issue could be boiled down to a single conference. But the organizers, like Jolie, identified four tangible goals and outcomes that can be implemented in the global fight to end these crimes against women, children and men during war.
1) Call Attention to an Underreported Global Problem: The term of "rape as a weapon of war" is not new, but an actual look at the numbers are staggering, especially considering many rapes go unreported. While hard to quantify fully, the United Nations estimates that tens of thousands of women are raped in conflict areas each year. The places range from the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has been called "the rape capital of the world" to countries in Latin America where sexual violence has been used as a weapon as part of the endemic gang warfare. By launching a summit featuring diplomats from some of the world's most powerful countries, such as the United States, the United Kingdom and France, in addition to the Hollywood glamour of superstars Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, organizers hope to shine a bright light to the world on what remains a largely hidden problem.
2) Treat Rape In Conflict as a Crime and Hold Perpetrators Responsible: Participants in the conference wanted to push back against the idea that rape is an inevitable part of conflict; one of the results of the "fog of war," which makes it nearly impossible to hold individuals responsible. The United Nations estimates that as many as 50,000 women were raped during the Bosnian war in 1992-1995, but there have been fewer than 70 convictions. Much of the meeting was spent developing an international protocol for documenting and investigating sexual violence in conflict.
For example, the United Kingdom has dispersed a team of experts from a range of different background and skill sets to deploy in and out of conflict areas over the last year including in Libya, Syria and Mali. These teams "have been intentionally going to where stuff is happening or where they are still enduring consequences of sexual violence and conflict" to work with local humanitarian groups and law enforcement to assist in gathering evidence of crimes and also supporting the groups and governments to build better national capacity to handle the problem, a British diplomat confirmed to reporters earlier this week.
3) Get Governments to Act: Government officials from all of the countries attending the conference have agreed to take steps, including training military forces on ways to prevent sexual violence, by signing protocol statements committing to reinforcing the best practices and ideas identified in combating rape. The summit also encouraged countries to strengthen their local laws to be able prosecute perpetrators more efficiently.
"One of the most heartening aspects of this summit has been to see so many male leaders… prepared to confront the taboo surrounding sexual violence in conflict," Angelina Jolie said at the news conference closing the meeting. "This subject is now firmly on the top table of international diplomacy - and we will work to ensure it stays there."
4) Give a Voice to The Victims: The thousands of women and children, as well as men who are victims of these horrific crimes every year need to feel like more than just a statistic, activists say. Sexual violence can have very real and sometimes costly consequences. Women and girls who have been gang-raped often face costly medical issues that can financially cripple their families. There is also the issue of stigma and caring for children born out of rape. The United Nations has proposed that victims should receive financial reparations as well as counseling and medical help.
On Friday the U.S. State Department announced it was contributing an additional $12 million to programs specifically addressing the needs of victims of sexual violence in conflict areas and women and girls in the most vulnerable situations such as refugee camps.
"We know that survivors often need urgent assistance in order to recover and heal, whether during times of crisis or times of peace," Secretary Kerry said in his address. "It's the same challenge, and it's labor intensive and we need to support it. We need to make sure that they have that support in whatever moment of time it is and wherever they are in the world."