by William Hague
UK Foreign Secretary
Too often, the world seeks to end a conflict and rebuild war-torn societies without addressing the very reasons that make reconciliation so difficult and which contribute to renewed violence.
Wartime rape and sexual violence is one of those reasons.
Two weeks ago I visited the Democratic Republic of Congo and was handed a photograph of a five year old girl who had been raped. As I moved from refugee camps, to hospitals, and meetings with people fighting for justice, I heard more and more appalling stories of lives destroyed, women ostracised from their families, families broken and victims given life threatening illnesses after being attacked when foraging for firewood. And all this while the perpetrators continue their ‘normal lives’ under the cover of shameful impunity.
In many of the major conflicts of the past twenty years, from Bosnia to Rwanda and from Libya to Sierra Leone, rape has been used as a deliberate weapon to scar political opponents or entire ethnic or religious groups. The scars inflicted do not easily heal, and never disappear. Instead they often destroy families and corrode communities.
Sadly the same story is being repeated again in Syria today, where there are horrific reports of civilians being raped and tortured, and violations being committed with the deliberate intention of terrorising political opponents.
Responding to this challenge is our responsibility as political leaders of democratic states that believe in human dignity. We have to try and stop this abhorrent crime that has affected so many and work to eradicate the use of rape as a weapon of war.
This is not an easy task and there are many obstacles.
First, there is the fear and shame of the victims themselves. Understandably, often they are reluctant to come forward because of the stigma attached to being raped. This reluctance is then made worse by the lack of sensitive physical and psychological support available to victims.
Second, there is the difficulty of gathering evidence that can be used in court cases, which means that few successful prosecutions are ever mounted. Since 1996 as many as 500,000 women
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