Tackling rape as a weapon of war
Human rights breakthroughs are like buses, you wait ages for one… We’d barely recovered from the excitement of the Arms Trade Treaty vote at the United Nations on 2 April, when on 11 April, Foreign Secretary William Hague and the 7 other G8 Foreign Ministers agreed a landmark declaration on preventing rape during conflict: the Prevention of Sexual Violence Initiative (PSVI).
As our Women’s Human Rights Programme Director, Liz McKean wrote at the time, the PSVI aims to address the shocking levels of impunity for the devastating and pernicious violation of human rights that sexual war crimes represent.
I must add that, as you'd expect and as with the Arms Trade Treaty, we hadn’t really just been waiting around for the next bus. We’ve been working hard behind the scenes since the launch of the PSVI campaign by William Hague last year, to ensure the declaration is as strong on human rights as possible.
Our work with civil servants and government ministers was instrumental in widening the scope of PSVI to ensure protections for women human rights defenders were included. We’ve also been advising on existing international rights law and obligations – particularly the landmark UN Security Council resolution 1325, which guaranteed women’s meaningful participation in peace negotiations.
Since the launch of the campaign, William Hague has shown real commitment to making tackling sexual violence in conflict a priority for the UK during its presidency of the G8 this year. You may have seen him hit the headlines in March ahead of this month's G8 meeting, highlighting the issue of sexual violence in conflict on a visit with UNHCR special envoy Angelina Jolie to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where an estimated 200,000 women and girls have been raped since 1998.
While the number of women and girls affected by sexual violence in the DRC is shockingly high - and represents an unthinkable number of personal tragedies - it is the latest in a long list of recent conflicts marked by devastatingly high levels of sexual violence: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, East Timor, Liberia, and Rwanda.
So what next if we are to turn rhetoric into reality for survivors of conflicts past and present? We need to continue to ensure that the UK government lives up to its promises - including at the next UN Security Council meeting in New York, a key opportunity to get international support for the Initiative. So watch this space.
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.