By Jane Morse
At the largest summit of its kind in history, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged the international community to end sexual violence in conflict.
Wartime rape, Kerry told participants at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, should be banished “to the dark ages and the history books where it belongs.”
Kerry’s June 13 remarks closed a four-day summit in London that brought together hundreds of participants: government officials from over 100 countries as well as international organization representatives, and domestic and international experts from the legal, military, humanitarian, judicial and civil society sectors.
The summit was chaired by the United Kingdom Foreign Secretary William Hague and Special Envoy of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Angelina Jolie.
Kerry said the summit forces the world “to recognize that sexual violence is a vile crime against humanity.”
“We have to fight to hold the criminals accountability and end the age of impunity,” Kerry said. “Instead of shaming the survivors, we have to punish the perpetrators.”
The secretary urged all nations to adopt a zero-tolerance policy toward sexual violence against women and men, adding that “we need to guarantee, country for country, that we can bring the perpetrators to justice.”
“Gender-based violence, anywhere, is a threat to peace, security, and dignity everywhere,” Kerry said. “That’s why we will not, we should not, we cannot tolerate peace agreements that actually provide amnesty for rape.
“I know that we have to help countries to strengthen their domestic justice systems so that they have the infrastructure and the training to investigate and prosecute sexual violence effectively,” Kerry said. “And I might add doing so would build the capacity for those governments to survive and also to fight back against a wave of radical extremism and terror which is consuming some fragile governments today.”
Restoring the dignity to survivors of sexual violence is critical, the secretary said. Victims cannot be ostracized, he said, but rather must be helped to “once again become full citizens, get back their lives.”
The United States, Kerry said, “is committed to taking our own action now. We’re launching an accountability initiative to help survivors secure justice — to build the capacity of partner governments to prosecute the sexual violence crimes in countries that are ravaged by war and violence and insecurity.”
According to the State Department, additional steps being taken by the United States include:
• Increased funding for “Safe from the Start,” an initiative for international organization partners to build on the initial U.S. commitment of $10 million to help nongovernmental organizations develop innovative programs to prevent and respond to gender-based violence and refugee emergencies.
• An additional $2.5 million to expand the “Together For Girls,” an initiative with countries developing data to fuel their responses to end sexual violence against children, especially girls.
• Increased funding for the “Gender-Based Violence Emergency Response and Protection Initiative, which provides emergency financial assistance to individuals around the world, including in conflict settings, who have either endured violence or are facing an immediate and severe threat.
Kerry also challenged other governments to ban visas for individuals responsible for crimes against humanity and war crimes, including those involving sexual violence. The Obama administration announced such a U.S. visa ban in February.