Preventing Sexual Violence Is a National Security Imperative

We see it especially in Goma, where one of us met in a hospital with young women so damaged by rape that they required surgery. And we see it in Syria today, where rape is being used as a tool of oppression. So is this personal to us? You bet.
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Imagine that you're caught in the cross-hairs of a civil war. Your family has been ripped apart, your home destroyed, your life forever changed. For many women in the world today, these horrors are only the beginning.

For too long, in too many places, sexual violence has been used as a weapon of war and intimidation. We see it in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where countless women have been subjected to targeted, grotesque violence. We see it especially in Goma, where one of us met in a hospital with young women so damaged by rape that they required surgery. And we see it in Syria today, where rape is being used as a tool of oppression.

So is this personal to us? You bet. But these stories should offend every reasonable conscience. Preventing sexual violence in conflict isn't about politics. It's about our common humanity, and we all need to be united in action against it.

That's why the United Kingdom and the United States are working together to protect and empower vulnerable populations during conflict, humanitarian emergencies and peacetime.

Preventing sexual violence isn't just a great moral cause of our generation. It is a national security imperative. Sexual violence destroys lives. It fuels conflict, forces people to flee their homes and is often perpetrated alongside other human rights abuses, including forced marriage, sexual slavery and human trafficking. It undermines reconciliation and traps survivors in conflict, poverty and insecurity.

Our goal must be to end this cycle of violence once and for all.

We've seen the horrors. The question now is whether we can marshal the activism and energy to actually do something about it.

We can start by recognizing that sexual violence isn't an inevitable consequence of conflict. It's a crime, plain and simple. Above all, it's a crime that can be stopped dead in its tracks. We need to punish perpetrators and restore dignity to survivors.

We are proud that both our countries are among the 140 countries that have signed the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict put forward at the United Nations' General Assembly last September. By signing, we made a solemn pledge: to prevent and respond to sexual violence anywhere and everywhere it rears its head.

One-hundred-and-forty countries reaffirmed our commitment to support survivors and help them secure justice. We reaffirmed our commitment not to enter into peace agreements that provide amnesty for rape. And we reaffirmed that preventing sexual violence will play a major role in resolving conflicts, promoting development, and building a sustainable peace.

We also need to recognize that men and boys fall victim to sexual violence. We've met male survivors in Sarajevo, who years later still live shattered by trauma. Rebuilding the lives of those who've been humiliated and terrorized in the most shocking way means bringing sexual violence out of the shadows. It means supporting survivors and holding perpetrators accountable.

It's time we shift the stigma of shame from survivors of these crimes onto those who actually commit, command and condone them. Together with partners around the world, the United Kingdom and the United States are standing behind survivors as they seek to heal their wounds, gain justice and rebuild their lives and communities.

We both look forward to the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, which will be held in London this June and co-hosted by UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie. This must be the moment the world unites to shatter the culture of impunity for these crimes, and both our countries will play their part.

Given that we still see gaps in preventing and responding to gender-based violence at the onset of an emergency, the United Kingdom and United States have recommitted ourselves to strengthening our humanitarian response to fill those gaps. When women and girls are safer in times of crisis, their societies will emerge stronger.

We are also supporting the role of women as equal partners in all aspects of preventing conflict and promoting justice in countries threatened and affected by war, violence and insecurity, including in the negotiations to end the Syria conflict. By investing in women's participation in conflict resolution and peace building, we are working to ensure rape is no longer a commonplace tactic of war.

No society will know peace if it leaves half its population behind. Women's voices are a critical part of coming to terms with the past by investing in a shared future that rejects conflict and promotes dignity. Women have been subjected to rape and sexual violence as tactics of war. Now we must enlist and empower them as agents of peace.

It is time for every citizen in every nation to stand up against sexual violence. Join us in putting the cycle of violence to an end. Now is the time to act.

John Kerry is the U.S. Secretary of State and William Hague is the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs of the United Kingdom.

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