Calling for an unblushing, unwavering campaign to confront and eradicate sexual violence, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told an international audience that America and the global community "will not tolerate rape as a tactic of war and intimidation."
Kerry gave the closing speech Friday in London at a global summit aimed at halting sexual violence as a tool of war. The four-day summit brought together hundreds of experts, survivors, lawmakers, activists and faith leaders, culminating with a protocol signed by at least 113 countries.
The international protocol sets standards for documenting and investigating sexual assaults in conflict zones, improving the prospects for criminal convictions. The conference, according to a British government website
, also urged individual governments to strengthen and enforce domestic laws against sexual violence and to train military and peacekeepers to protect people.
"When people ask whether or not we could actually outlaw sexual violence in warfare, let me tell you the answer is a resounding yes, yes we can achieve this goal,'' Kerry said.
The summit, striving to change attitudes that sexual violence is an acceptable part of war, also encouraged more support for victims of sexual assault and for individuals and organizations that work on their behalf. The United Kingdom’s government pledged more than £140 million, or $237 million, to that cause.
Not just a women's issue
Actress Angelina Jolie, a United Nations special envoy and conference co-host with British Foreign Minister William Hague, said at a concluding news conference with Hague and Kerry that she found it "heartening to see so many male leaders … here to confront taboos."
Sexual violence, she said, "is not just a women’s issue, not just a humanitarian issue."
"We've tolerated and we still do tolerate violence and discrimination against women in many forms in all quarters of the world and women still do not occupy their rightful place in the economics and diplomacy and government of many nations," Hague said during the conference.
"I'm saddened that women's groups still have to ask to be included at the negotiating table as if it were a concession to be granted, or a right to be begrudgingly accorded when in fact it is the only route to better decisions, and to stronger and safer societies," he said.
The summit brought testimony from victims of sexual violence and medical and other experts who treat it. The gathering drew people from the front lines, as well as celebrities such actor Brad Pitt, Jolie’s partner. Fashion designer Stella McCarthy announced the launch of “Draw Me to Safety,” an art project for young victims of violence. It's affiliated with the London-based nonprofit War Child
Jolie became active in humanitarian issues in 2001 as a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, visiting Sierra Leone. An estimated 60,000 women had been raped during its civil war from 1991 to 2002.
Hague got involved in Jolie's campaign against sexual violence in war zones, Reuters reported, after viewing “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” her 2011 directorial debut. It was set during the 1992-95 Bosnian war in which more than 100,000 people were killed and an estimated 20,000 women believed raped.
Males victimized, too
The summit also considered the impact of sexual violence on men and boys, the French news agency AFP reported. Hague and Jolie have visited the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Bosnia to raise awareness of the issue.
Asked during the news conference whether she might do more artistic work on the summit’s themes, Jolie said she would continue to meet with survivors and bring attention to sexual violence "in any way as an artist."
Kerry, at the news conference, denounced rape "as a tactic of oppression and intimidation."
"Ending the cycle of violence is not just a personal priority," said Kerry, who has two daughters, but it also is a priority of the United States and its allies.
"Thousands of years after rape was written into the lexicon of warfare," he said, "we know that it is time to write it out and to banish sexual violence to the dark ages and the history books where it belongs."
Some information for this report was provided by Reuters and AFP news services.