A global summit will be held in London next year to demand “justice and respect” for victims of wartime rape, William Hague announced today.
The Foreign Secretary will co-chair the event with Angelina Jolie, the Hollywood actress who has campaigned with him against sexual violence, in her role as a UN special envoy for refugees.
The summit will be attended by representatives from 137 countries which have signed a British-led declaration that rape in conflict zones will never again be shrugged off for the sake of peace deals.
“We intend it to be the largest summit ever staged on this issue,” Mr Hague said. “We want to bring the world to a point of no return, creating irreversible momentum towards ending warzone rape and sexual violence worldwide.”
He paid tribute to Ms Jolie for helping to put the issue on the global agenda. “The United Kingdom has a seat at all the world's top tables of diplomacy —but this cannot be tackled by governments alone.
“We have to change attitudes worldwide, and her role is indispensable.”
Ms Jolie said this afternoon: "This summit is long overdue. The goal must be an end to impunity, and justice and respect for the survivors of these horrendous crime.
“We are committed to see that through no matter what it takes, and I hope other countries will take part and live up to their responsibilities.”
Mr Hague told a hushed Commons today: “I will never forget meeting young women in a hospital in Goma so damaged by rape that they required surgery
“Or the woman in a refugee camp there who said they were being ‘raped like animals'.
“Or male survivors in Sarajevo, who twenty years on still live lives shattered by trauma.
“Or meeting women in refugee camps in Darfur who were raped collecting firewood.
“What they all had in common was that, unjustly, they bore the stigma and shame and loneliness, while their attackers walked free and unpunished.”
He added: “This issue is not about politics, but about our common humanity. And it is not enough to be united in condemnation of it, unless we are united in action against it.”
The Foreign Secretary said rape was used “as a tactic or weapon of war - to terrorise, to humiliate and to ethnically cleanse”.
“Our goal must be to end the use of rape as a weapon of war,” he said. “No longer treating it as an inevitable consequence of conflict but a crime that can be stopped.”
Mr Hague launched the campaign after meeting women whose lives were destroyed by such crimes but were offered no redress. An estimated 400,000 rapes were systematically carried out in Rwanda and tens of thousands more in Bosnia, yet only a handful of people have been prosecuted because sexual violence was either seen as “inevitable” or was overlooked in case prosecutions put peace at risk.
Judges, doctors and police who have worked in warzones will take part in the three days of talks to share their expertise in safeguarding women and putting attackers in the dock.
They will include members of a unique British task force of experts in the field of rape prosecution which was launched to train civilian and military authorities in troublespots on how to prevent war crimes, help victims recover and punish perpetrators.
“We will ask all the countries present to make real practical commitments,” said Mr Hague, who began working on the initiative two years ago. “We will ask them to revise their military doctrines and training, and their training and operations on peacekeeping missions.”