(AFP) Co-hosts Angelina Jolie and British Foreign Secretary William Hague will on Tuesday open a four-day summit on ending sexual violence in conflict, the biggest meeting ever held on the subject.
Senior officials from over 100 countries, including US Secretary of State John Kerry, will join over 900 experts, NGOs, survivors and religious leaders at London’s Excel Centre.
Writing in London’s Evening Standard newspaper, Kerry said delegates would work to “relegate sexual violence to the annals of history”.
“Sexual violence plagues every country,” he wrote. “Acts of sexual violence demean our collective humanity.
We will pool our expertise, diplomatic skills and resources toward the common goal of relegating sexual violence to the annals of history where it belongs.”
The top US diplomat insisted that sexual violence in armed conflict be treated as a major international crime and that every government deny safe haven to those who “commit these vile acts.”
“We must declare in unison: ‘They can’t run and they won’t hide here’,” he added.
Film forced Hague to act
It was Jolie’s film “In the Land of Blood and Honey” which first alerted Hague to the extent of sexual violence in conflict zones, he has said.
The British cabinet minister and Hollywood A-Lister Jolie, a Special Envoy for the UN Commissioner for Refugees, have since visited the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Bosnia as part of their campaign to bring the issue to the world’s attention.
Jolie’s 2011 film, which marked her directorial debut, is a love story told against the backdrop of the Bosnian war two decades ago, when according to Hague some 50,000 women were raped.
Hague hopes the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, which runs until Friday, will create “so much momentum that we begin to shatter the culture of impunity.”
“If women are still treated in this abhorrent way in times of war, they will never be treated as equals in times of peace, and that cannot be tolerated,” he added.
Journalist Jineth Bedoya Lima, survivor of sexual violence in Colombia’s conflict, will be one of speakers.
“For the first time in history a world summit highlights and denounces a crime that is normally made invisible and is often silenced by the majority of states,” she said.
The stated aims of the conference are to “shatter the culture of impunity” by launching a new International Protocol, to take practical steps to reduce the dangers women face in conflict zones, to increase support for survivors of sexual violence and to “debunk the myth that rape in war is somehow inevitable or a lesser crime.”
Hague and Jolie will on Tuesday take part in meetings with youth delegates and on Wednesday are due to attend an event to launch the International Protocol.
On Thursday, Hague will host delegations from over 100 countries and will chair a ministerial meeting on security in northern Nigeria.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon (by video message) and US Secretary of State John Kerry will speak in a closing plenary session on Friday.
There will also be over 140 free events open to the public as part of the three-day Global Summit Fringe, which runs until Thursday.
The event will feature film, music, theatre and debate.