*I was so honoured to host the opening of the exhibition "TimeToAct" and give support from the bottom of my heart to this very, very important initiative to stop sexual abuse in conflict. As a true pacifist and someone whose country survived war and raping in war, I can only say that this subject affected me deeply and I was grateful and honored when British Council contact me to be a part of this wonderful project!
With the Ambassador of Great Britain and North Ireland David Slinn
David Slinn (speach):
Good evening and welcome. As we speak now, up there in London, representatives of over 100 countries - including Croatia – and almost 1,000 experts, NGOs, survivors, Faith leaders and international organizations from across the world are meeting at the biggest summit ever on Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict.
Two years ago, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague realized that something has to be done – and can be done – to stop the horrendous practice of sexual violence in conflicts and end the widespread culture of impunity for the perpetrators.
Together with Jolie, he decided to launch the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict with the aim to urge and commit Governments across the world to act to eradicate these acts of barbarism.
Two years later, over 151 have endorsed the UN Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence, committing themselves to work not only on paper, but in practice, to end sexual violence in conflict.
This photo exhibition is one of 80 events taking place worldwide to coincide with the Global Summit currently going on in London, co-chaired by the Foreign Secretary and U.N. Envoy Jolie, making it a global call for all of us to support the victims and do our utmost to stop the use of sexual violence as an inevitable part of a conflict. Your Foreign Minister, Vesna Pusic, who is one of only 20 ‘Champions’ in the Initiative, as well as the War Veterans’ Minister, Fred Matic, are attending the Summit in London (otherwise they would be here with us).
I personally vividly remember when in the 1990’s, media began reporting about the rape of women – and men – from Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo. It was clear from the first moment, from the first reports, that it was not a side-effect of the war. It was not just ‘something that some men do.’ It was clear that rape and sexual violence has been used – as in most of the conflicts in our lifetime – as a weapon of war.
They are used on purpose, as a form of torture, as tools for ethnic cleaning or a means of controlling or terrorizing civilian populations. Women, men and children are all victims. Sexual violence in conflict inflicts unimaginable suffering; it affects victims, families and whole communities. In that way, it perpetuates conflict and instability, often for generations, in a cycle of violence that destroys lives.
International humanitarian laws have prohibited sexual violence in armed conflict. UN and other international organizations, as well as civil society groups have all worked to halt this human tragedy. We applaud and support them. But still, for too long, those who committed these crimes, and their commanders, who order or condone these crimes, or simply turn their head away, have gone unpunished.
In Croatia, there are reports about 3,000 cases of sexual violence committed during the 1991-5 war. Fifty-seven of those went to the court; only 15 cases were completed. In neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina, about 50,000 women were raped; only about 60 of them saw justice done. The stories – and numbers – are similar in Colombia, Rwanda, DR of Congo, Syria ... the endless list of conflicts where women, children and men have been brutally assaulted, often as part of military strategy, with total impunity.
When asked recently whether he was overwhelmed by the scope of the problem, William Hague responded: ‘’No. Because the problem is so great, we have to defeat it. Massive injustices are overcome when enough people are aware.’’
And that is what the Global Summit in London is all about: We want the world to agree and take practical measures to end sexual violence in conflict and end the culture of impunity for the perpetrators. Public outrage and political will resulted in cluster munitions and chemical weapons being banned. We want the Global Summit to be the moment that the world wakes up and says that rape and sexual violence are not an inevitable part of war.
Croatian Minister of Foreign and European Affairs Vesna Pusic – who was chosen by the Foreign Secretary Hague to be one of (only) 21 champions of the Initiative – is attending the Summit. We are pleased that Minister of War Veterans Fred Matic and his Deputy, Bojan Glavasevic, are also attending.
We cherish Croatia’s experience – however painful, struggling and long it has been – in dealing with the problem, joining us in our commitment to make the real change so that the future generations, our kids and grandchildren, will not have to go through the same experience as their ... as your parents or grandparents. Croatian survivors are painful yet motivating reminder of why we should work to end sexual violence in conflict; why the Initiative and the Summit in London must succeed.
Political, defence and judicial leaders that are gathering in London today, as well as experts and NGOs are expected to take decisive action against this entrenched crime in four ways:
First, we want to shatter the culture of impunity for sexual violence in conflict by launching a new International Protocol with international standards for documenting and investigating sexual violence in conflict zones. The Protocol will help strengthen prosecutions for rape in conflict, increasing the prospects for successful convictions.
Second, we will call for all soldiers and peacekeepers to be trained not only to understand the gravity of sexual violence in conflict, but to prevent it and protect people.
Third, we will increase support for survivors of sexual violence and for the human rights defenders who shine a spotlight on these crimes often at serious risk to themselves. The UK government has already committed more than $140 million to this effort and we will call on others to join us so many more traumatized men, women and children can access critical support.
And fourth, and most important: We want the Summit to make a seismic shift in attitudes. We want to forever shatter the myth that rape in war is somehow inevitable or lesser crime. We want the stigma and shame to be put where it belongs: not on the survivors, but on the perpetrators. We want people, governments, faith leaders and civil society across the world to condemn the horrors of warzone sexual violence and to grasp the role they have to play in ending this crime once and for all.
This is a long-term process. It will take years, a huge amount of decisiveness and courage. But by working together, sharing our knowledge and experience, we certainly can make a change. We have to, because any country that believes in human rights of all human beings cannot know about the way is used as a weapon of war and ignore it. If women are treated that way in war, they would never be treated as equals in times of peace either and that simply cannot be tolerated.