The stately UN Conference Room was packed yesterday as diplomats, government officials, women's rights advocates, and other members of civil society gathered to mark the introduction of a new pledge to end rape in war: "The Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict." The work of United Kingdom Foreign Secretary William Hague, the Declaration offered an opportunity for UN member states to redouble their efforts to address gender-based violence in conflict.
As Secretary Hague gaveled the proceedings to order, declaring this "a moment of great hope for the future," he announced that 107 countries had signed on to the Declaration--a number that continued to increase throughout the two and a half hour session. By the end of the meeting, an astounding 113 countries agreed to support the Declaration. This means that more than half of the UN member states have expressed support for strengthened efforts to end rape in war. As the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Bangura said, "When the history books are written, they will say that this is the date, time, and place when countries came together to stop this crime."
This overwhelming support from UN member states came about because, as the representative from Senegal noted, "This is one of those issues that leaves no room for neutrality, that only leaves room for a single choice...action."
Among other things, the Declaration calls for:
- Adequate funding for sexual violence prevention and response efforts;
- Comprehensive, improved, and timely medical and psychosocial care for survivors;
- The exclusion of crimes of sexual violence from amnesty provisions in peace accords;
- The full participation of women in all decision-making processes during conflict, post-conflict, and peace time;
- Strengthened regional efforts to prevent and respond to rape in war;
- Enhanced support for conflict-affected states for national security and justice reform efforts aimed at addressing sexual violence in conflict;
- Military and police training on prevention and protection obligations;
- Improved collection and access to data and evidence of sexual violence during conflict;
- Support and protect civil society's efforts to document cases of rape in war; and
- The development of an International Protocol on the documentation and investigation of sexual violence in conflict
The overwhelming support for the Declaration is encouraging, but as many member states noted during remarks made during the session, and as Angelina Jolie, the actress and Special Envoy for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said in video-taped remarks for the session, "The true measure of the success of this Declaration is whether or not it leads to action on the ground."
A speaker from the Survivors Speak Out Network, herself a survivor of sexual violence during war, told the audience, "We must remember that for people that have been affected, it is impossible to forget. Survivors must be at the center of any strategy." With this new declaration, countries now have the opportunity to show--through words backed by action—that healing for survivors is an international priority and perpetrators will no longer rape with impunity.