Sexual Violence in Conflict: I discussed with the Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka specific support for our initiative, and we await their reply

william hague     Britain said that it is awaiting Sri Lanka’s reply on whether the latter will support the issue of preventing sexual violence in conflict.This was stated by  Mr William Hague British, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs   in  response to a question in the House of Commons  on 28 N0vember 2013  on  Sexual Violence in Conflict. 

Mr William Hague said, “I discussed with the Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka specific support for our initiative, and we await their reply on whether they will support it.”

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): With permission, Mr Speaker, I will update the House on the Government’s initiative on preventing sexual violence in conflict. This issue is not about politics but about our common humanity; it is not enough to be united in condemnation of it, unless we are united in action against it.

In April, during our presidency, the G8 adopted an historic declaration that promised to eradicate sexual violence in conflict. In June, I chaired a meeting of the United Nations Security Council that unanimously adopted resolution 2106—its first resolution on sexual violence in three years. It was co-sponsored by an unprecedented 46 nations and strengthened the UN’s capabilities. In September, during and after the UN General Assembly, we put forward a new declaration of commitment to end sexual violence in conflict. That has been endorsed by 137 countries—more than two thirds of all members of the United Nations.

At our behest, those countries have promised not to enter into or support peace agreements that give amnesty for rape. Suspects can be arrested in any of those countries, all of which have now recognised rape and serious sexual violence as grave breaches of the Geneva conventions, so that the principle of universal jurisdiction applies. They will support new global efforts to give aid and justice to survivors, and for the first time every UN peacekeeping mission will automatically include the protection of civilians against sexual violence in conflict. Furthermore, all 137 countries have agreed to support the development of a new international protocol on the investigation and documentation of sexual violence in conflict that we have proposed. Those are groundbreaking commitments to erode impunity and support victims. This month, our attendance at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Sri Lanka ensured that the final communiqué contained the first ever commitment by all 53 members states to prevent and respond to sexual violence.

As the next stage in the campaign, I have decided to convene a global summit in London from 11 to 13 June next year, co-chaired by me and UNHCR Special Envoy Jolie. We will invite the states that have endorsed the declaration, and legal, military, civil society and humanitarian representatives from around the world. We will open up the summit to civil society and members of the public. There will be a large fringe throughout the summit, enabling events on conflict prevention, women’s rights, international justice, and business and human rights.

Mr Douglas Alexander (Paisley and Renfrewshire South) (Lab): I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement and for advance sight of it.

The Foreign Secretary covered some specific countries of concern. Despite our well rehearsed disagreement with the Government on the Prime Minister’s attendance at the Commonwealth Heads of Government summit last month, I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s efforts to raise the issue of preventing sexual violence on the agenda while he was there. During his visit, he emphasised that the UK was ready to offer more assistance and co-operation to the Sri Lankan Government to tackle this issue. What response has he received from the Sri Lankan Government since the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting to those offers and how he plans to take this work forward?

Mr Hague: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his support for this initiative and our work on it in recent months. It is one of those subjects on which cross-party support, pursued consistently by all of us, is very important and helps to make a big impact on the rest of the world. I know that feelings on this will be appropriately strong among all political parties in the House.

On Sri Lanka, yes we secured the commitment in the Commonwealth communiqué, which I have to point out we could not have done had we not been there. While I was in Sri Lanka, I also gave a public speech on preventing sexual violence in conflict that was widely reported in the Sri Lankan media—on the television and across the newspapers—so I think we drew the attention of a far wider audience in Sri Lanka to this subject. I discussed with the Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka specific support for our initiative, and we await their reply on whether they will support it. Of course, there are aspects that the Sri Lankan Government will find difficult to sign up to, which is why it is important to put it to them and to continue putting it to them. We can only do that, however, if we meet them, which we would not have done had we followed the right hon. Gentleman’s advice.

 That, however, is our one disagreement. Otherwise, of course, there is strong cross-party unity on this issue, and I look forward to Opposition Members as well as Government Members playing a big role at next June’s global summit.

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