G8 Leaders Must Convert Words to Action against Sexual Violence in War Zones

Article excerpt

As the leaders of the top economic powers of the world gather at the G8 summit in Northern Ireland this week, they are certainly focused on the conflict in Syria and, as always, the financial conditions and regulations that affect the lives of so many.

But there's another important item on their agenda that hasn't been getting as much attention - the sexual violence, predominantly against women and children, that accompanies war and conflict.

Whenever war rips the fabric of society, social norms are stripped away, and sexual attacks too often follow. Such violence has in places become institutionalized as a weapon of war, a sadly effective method of terrorizing civilian populations into submission or forcing them to abandon resource-rich areas that armed groups seek to exploit. This violence leaves behind hundreds of thousands of documented victims, some of them murdered, many maimed, and so many others traumatized and stigmatized. The numbers are likely underreported due to the stigma that falls on its victims.

The British government is to be commended for putting sexual violence in conflict zones on the G8 meeting's agenda, and the United States has stepped up on this issue many times in the past. Now the G8 is set to take some important steps on sexual violence.

First, the group is set to declare sexual violence as a tool of war to be a violation of the Geneva Conventions. It will rule out amnesty for sexual crimes in peace treaties. The G8 countries plan to increase and improve the ability of the international community to investigate these crimes. And the group has committed to expand training of military troops on the issue. The G8 nations also made a pre-conference pledge of $36 million to combat the occurrence and effects of sexual violence.

All of this is certainly welcome, but resolutions and good intentions alone will not prevent or remediate the effects of sexual violence in war. These discussions must be more than a window dressing at a macroeconomics conference. The funding must be made available to pay for more than studies and statistical surveys.

What is needed is a commitment to four key additional steps. First, the G8 must delineate specific actions governments will take to prevent this violence. These should include improved training and discipline of all armed troops as well as increased accountability for crimes of sexual violence and a variety of measures to protect vulnerable communities. Basic steps such as paying soldiers on a timely basis, providing regular rotations, and clothing and feeding troops properly deter pillaging, which is often accompanied by sexual violence.

Second, the G8 nations must set up and ensure real-time reporting mechanisms. …