LONDON - The British government is launching an initiative aimed at reducing violence against women in conflict zones.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said a team will be established that can be deployed to conflict zones on short notice to help gather evidence of abuse with a view toward holding the perpetrators accountable.
In prepared remarks, Hague promises the team will work with United Nations and non-governmental experts on law enforcement, human rights and the care of sexual abuse victims.
The foreign secretary also said Britain will work to build diplomatic momentum for the effort during the next seven months, and then make it a focus of the country’s chairmanship of the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations next year.
The Global Advocate for Women’s Rights at Human Rights Watch, Gauri Van Gulik, said such an effort can help deter future violence against women. She said it is crucial for the British team, however, to work with groups already focused on the issue.
“Some aspects of the problem might be helped by this. There has to be very good cooperation with the United Nations on the ground, but especially with local groups, so local women’s groups who often do this work, local human rights groups," said Van Gulik. "So really going beyond just jumping in and out, and coordinating efforts with groups on the ground, this can be quite successful.”
Van Gulik said violence against women in conflict zones is “endemic” and “massive,” and ending it could take generations. But she said it can be reduced through law enforcement, education, activism and political action.
“Many women’s groups throughout the world have systematically gone about raising women’s rights issues at the political level, making sure that girls have access to education, making sure that women can participate in the workforce, making sure that domestic violence is tackled by the police. So there are steps we can take that really do improve the situation quite quickly,” said Van Gulik.
In his prepared remarks, Foreign Secretary Hague said dealing with sexual violence in war is a key to preventing future conflicts because the lack of justice from past offenses allows the roots of unrest to fester. He said the new initiative is designed to protect women and their children, and also to give the issue the “centrality” it deserves in “preventing conflicts and building sustainable peace.”