Indonesia and more than 100 other UN member states have signed a declaration pledging new global action to end sexual violence in conflict situations.
“This is a significant aspect to be highlighted in efforts to protect women in conflict situations,” Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said in a written statement received by The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.
More than 130 world leaders and ministers gathered at UN headquarters in New York for the General Assembly’s annual general debate, which kicked off on Tuesday and aimed to set the stage for building a new global development agenda that both protects the planet and promotes equity, justice and prosperity for all people.
Marty and 112 ministers signed the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, containing a set of practical and political commitments to end the use of rape and sexual violence as a weapon to terrorize and destroy communities during conflicts.
It also prohibits amnesties for sexual violence in peace agreements and allows for suspects to be apprehended wherever they are in the world.
Furthermore, it pledges to adopt a new international protocol in 2014 to help ensure that evidence collected in such crimes can be used in court proceedings.
The signing was held at an event cohosted by UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zainab Hawa Bangura and British Foreign Secretary William Hague on the sidelines of the 68th UN General Assembly in New York on Tuesday.
This issue was also discussed during a bilateral meeting between Marty and Hague on Monday.
“It is part of a common initiative by Britain, Indonesia and other nations to overcome violence against women in conflict,” Marty said.
In a statement released by the British Foreign Office, Hague said that the declaration was a milestone toward ending impunity for those who committed horrific sexual crimes during times of war.
“So many countries indicating a clear majority of the UN have supported the declaration,” Hague said.
The declaration has been designed to send an important message to the victims of these crimes that the international community has not forgotten them, and to the perpetrators of rape that they will be held to account.
Bangura has made continuous efforts to help strengthen police, military and judicial officials, in cooperation with a number of governments, to address the issue.
UNHCR Special Envoy for Refugees Angelina Jolie addressed the event by video link, saying that the declaration marked a true global change in attitudes to war-zone rape and sexual violence.
“It is the clearest statement we have heard, ever, that the international community must and will confront these crimes,” Jolie said.
Besides cohosting the signing event, Britain is preparing to host a major conference next year to increase international momentum on the issue.
The conference will bring together governments and representatives from civil society, judiciaries and militaries from around the world.
The UN Security Council has noted that “women and girls are particularly targeted by the use of sexual violence, including as a tactic of war to humiliate, dominate, instill fear in, disperse and/or forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic group”.
In its report published in April this year, Save the Children said that most victims of sexual violence in conflict zones were children who were suffering rape and abuse at an appalling rate.
The group described the attacks as the “hidden horrors of war”.
In the worst-affected countries, such as Liberia and Sierra Leone, children made up more than 70 percent of victims.
The report contained harrowing stories of children being killed after being raped and of others who were abducted and abused by armed forces and groups.
It also said children as young as 2 were being attacked by opportunistic predators including teachers, religious leaders and peacekeepers.
“It is shocking that in conflict zones around the world, children are being raped and abused at such an appalling rate,” said Save the Children’s chief executive, Justin Forsyth, as quoted by Reuters.