Banish sexual violence 'to dark ages': Kerry

14th June 2014, Comments 0 comments

US Secretary of State John Kerry said it was time to banish sexual violence "to the dark ages" as an international conference on rape as a weapon of war wrapped up in London on Friday.

The four-day gathering of 123 countries, co-hosted by Hollywood star Angelina Jolie, has sought to break the taboo of wartime rape and tackle a culture of impunity that experts warn is only creating more victims.

After days of discussion and often gruesome testimonies, the summit produced a new protocol which aims to improve the documentation and investigation of attacks to bring more perpetrators to justice.

"It's time to ban sexual violence to the dark ages and history books where it belongs," Kerry said at the closing press conference alongside Jolie and her co-host, British Foreign Secretary William Hague.

"Make no mistake: we can end this, establish new norms, hold those who commit those acts accountable and no longer tolerate these horrific tactics."

Kerry said as a "war veteran and father of two daughters", the issue was a "personal matter" for him.

Jolie, who has been campaigning on the issue for two years and whose presence made the summit front page news, said it had been an "emotional experience" but she was encouraged by the progress made.

"We have all come together based on a common desire to end war zone sexual violence, and we have mapped out every area of action we need to take," the 39-year-old said.

The issue was now "on the top table of international diplomacy", she said.

Hague said the summit had given him "renewed optimism" and insisted that the army of people determined to end rape being used as a weapon "is not going to be disbanded".

- ' Rape of young children' -

Among those speaking at the summit were two doctors from the Panzi hospital in the Democratic of Republic of Congo, which is renowned for helping treat survivors of sexual violence.

They warned of a dramatic increase in rapes on babies and young children in the area where they work, in Bukavu near the border with Rwanda.

"There is a normalisation of these crimes that directly affects children," Desire Munyali, a surgeon and paediatrician, told AFP.

"The number of sexual assaults on children has risen. I've seen horrors committed on babies less than one year old, assaulted in a way that is impossible to describe."

His colleague Nadine Neema Rukunghu, a radiologist, said that despite a decline in hostilities in the area, the number of victims had not reduced.

"If anything it's worse, because the culture of impunity surrounding rape has the effect of contamination," she said.

"Even ordinary civilians are carrying out acts of sexual violence without any fear of being caught."

Rukunghu described how a two-and-a-half-year-old girl was brought into the hospital a month ago "completely open, and full of blood".

They never found the person responsible, something she finds deeply depressing.

The only solution is to improve the investigation into such crimes and impose "exemplary punishments", she said, adding that she hoped the London summit would have an impact.

"Five years ago, this subject wasn't discussed," Rukunghu said -- including by the Congolese government, "either through shame or complicit silence".

Munyali added: "We've talked a lot, discussed a lot the issue of sexual violence and this summit will allow people to take concrete steps and measures to carry out concrete acts and gestures."

Jolie, whose partner Brad Pitt made a brief appearance at the summit on Thursday, was made an honorary dame in Queen Elizabeth II's birthday honours in recognition of her campaign work.

She said it had been an honour working with survivors of rape, but added: "I know that succeeding in our goals will take a lifetime, and I am dedicated to it for all of mine."

© 2014 AFP

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