First of all may I congratulate Foreign Minister Julie Bishop for hosting this dialogue. It is very timely, coming just a week before the major Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, which British Foreign Secretary William Hague will be hosting in London from 10-13 June.

The problem

In the last century we saw huge advances in the role of women in some parts of the world, though even in those countries more progress is required. But in many other places women remain marginalised. So there is a very long way to go before women all around the world are born with equal opportunities and aspirations.
One of the most extreme manifestations of the exploitation of women is the way rape is used as a weapon of war. Of course men and boys can be victims of these crimes too; and we shouldn’t ignore that. But the overwhelming majority of cases involve women and girls as victims and men as perpetrators. And that’s an uncomfortable thing for a man to have to admit.

I am personally proud that my boss, British Foreign Secretary William Hague, has given such strong personal leadership on this important international issue. He freely admits that what really first focused his attention was Angelina Jolie’s film “In the land of Blood and Honey”. Many of you may have seen it. It was a reminder that as many as 50,000 women were raped in Bosnia, during the war there in the 1990s. Yes, in Europe, and only 20 years ago. To this day, twenty years on, almost none of those women has seen any justice. There have been only 30 convictions. Similar stories can be found in Colombia, Rwanda, South Sudan, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Liberia, Syria. Often the brutal assaults on women, children and men have been a deliberate part of military strategy. It is used to terrorise, to humiliate, to ethnically cleanse. And whilst the attackers often walk away free and unpunished, it is the victims who silently bear stigma and shame alongside their suffering.

When we think about wars, we generally think about battlefields and soldiers. But in fact, as soon as conflict or instability occurs, sexual violence is often one of the first consequences. Yet when wars end and nations begin to rebuild, it’s usually one of the last things to be addressed.

Sexual violence in conflict is a major global problem. It happens wherever we find conflict. And it has affected millions of women, children and men. Yet the perpetrators normally operate in a climate of impunity. They are almost never exposed, prosecuted or punished.

So William Hague has been working closely with Angelina Jolie, in her capacity as Special Envoy of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, to raise awareness of the problem and build support for action to tackle it, at the United Nations and elsewhere. It has been a remarkably effective awareness-raising campaign: some 148 countries have now come on board in supporting the UN General Assembly Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. That’s three quarters of the total UN membership.

Political leaders from 14, widely ranging countries around the world, have stepped forward to show leadership by becoming champions for the initiative. They include the presidents of Liberia, Malawi, Senegal and Tanzania, the PM of East Timor, and the foreign ministers of Australia – yes, that’s right, Julie Bishop our host today – plus Croatia, Denmark, Guatemala, Jordan, Mexico, South Korea, the UAE and Indonesia.

If, as countries, we believe in human rights for all, we cannot simply ignore the use of rape as a weapon of war. If we can’t do something to tackle the most extreme form of violence against women, how are we going to address other lesser forms of discrimination?

The summit

The Summit which the UK is hosting next week, will be the largest ever international gathering on this vitally important issue. We want it to achieve a dramatic effect on the way people around the world think about this, so that we create a sense of irreversible movement towards ending the use of rape and sexual violence in conflict.

Who will be there? Government representatives from all over the world, from countries affected by conflict and post-conflict disorder, donors, the UN and other multilateral organisations. Plus NGOs, academics and representatives of civil society. The Summit will run from 10 to 13 June, with the ministerial-led sessions on 12 and 13 June. Alongside the formal meetings will be a whole programme of supporting events. They will cover a range of associated issues: conflict prevention, women’s rights and participation, men and boys, children affected by conflict, international justice, and wider issues of violence against women and girls. We hope to see participants showcasing successful programmes and policies from around the world.

It won’t be just another talking shop. We want the Summit to deliver a series of practical agreements that identify an ambitious programme for change. In particular we want to see agreement on specific actions by the international community in four areas:

First, improving the investigation and documentation of sexual violence in conflict

Second, providing greater support, assistance and reparation for survivors, including child survivors.

Third, ensuring responses to sexual and gender-based violence, and the promotion of gender equality are fully integrated into peace and security efforts.

Fourth, to improve strategic coordination on this issue internationally.

At the Summit we intend to launch the new International Protocol on the Investigation and Documentation of Sexual Violence in Conflict. This will be a practical tool to help improve accountability. We want to see it used widely. The aim is to increase the number of prosecutions that take place around the world, by ensuring that evidence is collected and survivors are supported.

We are also looking for agreement on revisions to military doctrine and training, and improvements to peacekeeping training and operations. We want to see new support for local and grassroots organisations and human rights defenders; and the development of international expertise to build national capacity; as well as improved support for survivors.

Practical steps

Words are not enough, we need to see practical action. Over the last year, Britain has deployed international experts to places like the Syrian borders, the DRC, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo. The teams draw on the skills of doctors, lawyers, police, psychologists, forensic specialists, and experts in the care and protection of survivors and witnesses. They have been helping to build capacity by training healthcare professionals and human rights defenders in documenting crimes, investigation standards and collecting and studying forensic evidence.

A European Union Training Mission in Mali has trained two battalions of soldiers in international humanitarian and human rights law. Britain has given £1m to support the work of the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Bangura. Our aid agency, the Department for International Development has launched a £25 million Research and Innovation Fund to help address violence against women in conflict. This indicates the priority which DFID are giving to the protection and empowerment of women and girls.


We want to maximise the global awareness generated by the London Summit. So our embassies and High Commissions around the world will be organising promotional events. Next week in the course of the Summit you may see our balloon in the skies above Canberra with the Summit hashtag “Time to Act”. I forsee lots of bemused Canberrans asking themselves “Time to ACT?” But when they click on to the hashtag they’ll get the message.


As I have described, we intend that this summit will deliver real practical actions. Our Dialogue here today will contribute to this unprecedented international effort. Ultimately we want to fundamentally change the way people around the world think about these horrendous crimes. As William Hague puts it “we don’t just want to move the pens of ministers, we are going to try to move the hearts of people.”

That’s a vaunting ambition. I suspect that one of the reasons William Hague has become so attached to it, is that he is a biographer of William Wilberforce, who led the move to abolish Slavery in the 19th century. He understands how people working together in a great cause can move mountains.

Let me congratulate once again Julie Bishop for her leadership on this issue. And her Ambassador for Women and Girls, my friend Natasha Stott Despoja, who will be representing the Minister, and Australia, at the Summit in London next week. I often find myself saying as I make speeches around this vast country, that Australia is a great force for good in this world. That is evident from the leadership you are giving on this hugely important subject. Let us hope that the meeting in London makes real progress next week, and that it comes to be seen as the moment where the world began to finally decide that on sexual violence in conflict, enough is enough.

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