On April 11, 2013, G8 Foreign Ministers adopted a five page Declaration on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict. The Declaration begins with the observation that:
Sexual violence in armed conflict represents one of the most serious forms of violation or abuse of international humanitarian law and international human rights law. Preventing sexual violence in armed conflict is therefore both a matter of upholding universal human rights and of maintaining international security, in keeping with UN Security Council Resolution 1820. Ministers emphasised that more must be done to address these ongoing crimes, including by challenging the myths that sexual violence in armed conflict is a cultural phenomenon or an inevitable consequence of war or a lesser crime.
The Declaration addresses sexual violence in armed conflict directed not only at women and girls, but also at men and boys, including those secondarily traumatized as forced witnesses of sexual violence against family members (para. 3).
The first part of the Declaration focuses on international law and its normative frameworks:
- recognizing that sexual violence in armed conflict “can be a constitutive act with respect to genocide”, a crime against humanity and a war crime (para. 2);
- expressing full support for the work of the UN in addressing sexual violence in armed conflict, particularly that of UN Women (para. 2);
- reiterating that ending sexual violence in conflict is interlinked with promoting and protecting women’s and children’s full human rights and fundamental freedoms, including promoting “women’s active and equal political, social and economic participation including in all conflict prevention, conflict resolution, transitional justice and security sector reform processes” (para. 3); and
- recalling that “rape and other forms of serious sexual violence in armed conflict are war crimes and also constitute grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and their first Protocol” and that “those accused of grave breaches should be brought to trial, in a manner consistent with international norms.” (para. 4).
The Declaration then turns to action items, proposing the creation of an International Protocol on the Investigation and Documentation of Sexual Violence in Conflict – a set of standard guidelines to be followed by all those responding during or after an armed conflict, so as to avoid multiple actors weakening or destroying evidence of, or information on, sexual violence (para. 6). This is certainly notable, as it could be of assistance not only to international and national criminal investigators, but also to international commissions of inquiry, UN Special Rapporteurs, UN agencies and nongovernmental organizations.
G8 Ministers also:
- committed to supporting conflict-affected countries in developing and implement country-level action plans to protect human rights defenders (para. 7);
- called on the international community, including the G8, to mobilize funding for health, psychosocial, legal and economic support including to the International Criminal Court’s Trust Fund for Victims (para. 8); and
- agreed that peace negotiations and ceasefires which are supported by G8 members should include the participation of women and that crimes of sexual violence in armed conflict should be excluded from amnesty provisions (para. 10).
- committed to supporting the deployment of international experts at the request of host governments, the UN and international organizations “to build national judicial, criminal investigative and legal capacity to increase the number of perpetrators brought to justice” (para. 10). The UK has already begun this, through the creation of a national roster of experts as part of its Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative.
Finally, the Declaration recognizes that a cooperative approach to addressing sexual violence in armed conflict may not be considered a priority in the face of other pressing security and conflict concerns but it would clearly have greater impact (para. 13). Thus, the Ministers reaffirmed their support for various UN efforts and initiatives (paras. 13 and 14) and ended by recognizing the need for a considered review of the Declaration’s commitments (para. 15).
The adoption of the Declaration resulted in some associated announcements. For example, the United States announced that it is committing $10 million, and Canada announced that it is contributing $5 million, to support new and ongoing efforts that align with the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative.
All of these commitments are to be welcomed, especially if they truly strengthen existing United Nations and other efforts to address sexual violence in conflict. The test will be, of course, whether these G8 commitments are realized – and, if they are, whether they are they realized in a fundamentally useful manner.