On 11 April, G8 Foreign Ministers adopted a Declaration on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict at their meeting in London, endorsing a proposed international protocol on investigating and documenting such crimes.
The Declaration reaffirms that sexual violence in conflict is prohibited by international humanitarian law, as a crime against humanity, "grave breach" of the Geneva Conventions, and an ingredient of genocide if part of a “widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population”.
Accordingly, the Ministers agreed that states should ensure that the perpetrators are “search[ed] for and prosecut[ed] (or hand[ed] over for trial)”, without any prejudice to their nationalities. They also agreed that amnesty provisions should not be applicable to crimes of sexual violence.
Preventing sexual violence in conflict has been a key priority for UK Foreign Secretary William Hague. The UK will take the lead in developing a a "comprehensive International Protocol on the Investigation and Documentation of rape and sexual violence in conflict", which will set out standards to ensure that the strongest possible evidence is collected, that survivors receive sensitive and sustained support, and that, in due course, the number of successful prosecutions can be increased.The UK also announced £150,000 funding for the work of the UN Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict.
Stressing the significance of the G8 action, Hague said "this Declaration is important but only a beginning. We now need many more countries to join us."
At the meeting, the Ministers specifically called on the global community to provide funding to prevent sexual violence and provide redress for victims. They also called on countries to ensure proper training for troops and the involvement of women in conflict- and post-conflict processes linked to sexual violence.
Recognising the UN's efforts in this area, in particular the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict (SRSG), they stressed the importance of international action in addressing the “lack of accountability” for such crimes and in extending support to the victims.
Photo: Victims of sexual violence being treated at the Hospital of Panzi, Democratic Republic of Congo (UN Photo/Marie Frechon)