William Hague – 2014 Speech on Sexual Violence


Below is the text of the speech made by William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, in Bogota, Colombia, on 17th February 2014.

I thank the Centre for Peace, Reconciliation and Memory for hosting us today.

And I thank you Defence Minister – it is an honour to be here in your country. Yesterday you and I saw how your navy´s counter-narcotics operations are making a huge difference to the security of my country as well as to Colombia, by reducing the flow of drugs on our streets. This is a powerful symbol of the trust and mutual benefits that underpin our bilateral relationship. I am here in Bogota because we want to strengthen those ties in many areas, from trade and education to foreign policy and security cooperation, as well as to support your peace process.

I discussed the peace negotiations this morning with President Santos. We know from our own experience how hard it is to reach and implement peace agreements and the courage and commitment that is required. I pay tribute to the President for his leadership, and to the efforts of civil society and affected communities. You will have our support as you bring an end to this terrible conflict and build sustainable peace. I am delighted to be sharing the stage with Nigeria Rentería, the Presidential Advisor for Women’s Equality, and one of two female negotiators to the team leading talks with the FARC. The Women for Peace march in November showed the inspiring possibilities for women’s participation in the peace process. Colombia is setting an example for many other countries, where women are frequently excluded from negotiations, something we must ensure does not happen in Syria today.

The friendship between our countries is growing stronger by the day because we have a like-minded approach to many problems in the world.

I hope we can now take our cooperation into a new area, and work together on ending the use of rape and sexual violence as weapons of war anywhere in the world.

To each generation fall different responsibilities, and this I believe is a cause for our generation.

Millions of women and girls and men and boys have been raped in conflicts in our lifetime, on every continent, including in the heart of Europe only twenty years ago.

Warzone rape destroys lives, traps survivors in poverty, undermines reconciliation and fuels conflict. We must stop this terrible cycle by shattering the culture of impunity that exists around the world today.

These crimes must no longer be regarded as something that simply happens in conflict zones. The suffering of women must never again be treated as an issue of secondary importance. And survivors must no longer be shunned and abandoned but supported and freed from stigma. To do this we need to change the entire global attitude to these crimes, so that governments are persuaded to live up to their responsibilities and take the practical action that is needed.

In many countries across the world civil society organisations have been working towards this goal – including Colombia’s courageous “Now is not the time to be silent” campaign who are our partners in this event today.

But the missing element until now has been that Governments have not taken up this cause. That is what I am trying to change, using the full diplomatic weight and global presence of the United Kingdom to persuade not just a few countries, but the entire world, to treat this as an urgent global priority. By championing it as a Foreign Minister I hope to persuade other countries to see that this is an issue of international peace and security that needs to be discussed at every top table of international diplomacy.

The samples of earth around this centre taken from the sites of atrocities are a powerful reminder of everything that the people of Colombia have endured during fifty years of appalling conflict, of the lives lost, and the lives shattered by violence, upheaval and displacement, including sexual violence. These crimes are particularly hard to quantify, but I am aware of one survey that estimates that between 2001 and 2009, almost 500,000 Colombian women were victims of sexual violence associated with the conflict.

Your government is working to address this government at home, but your knowledge and experience is something to be drawn upon by other countries facing similar problems. So we see Colombia as a natural partner in this area, and I was delighted when your Foreign Minister gave Colombia support to a historic Declaration promising to end the use of rape as a weapon of war which I presented at the United Nations in September last year and which has now been endorsed by 140 countries.

This was the highpoint so far of a campaign I began in May 2012 with the Special Envoy of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Angelina Jolie, our Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative

In four months time we will convene a global summit in London in June this year, which we intend to be the largest ever staged on this issue. It will bring together governments, militaries, police forces and international organisations. It will be open to the public. Civil society organisations will hold open sessions on conflict prevention, women’s rights and business and human rights. Here in Colombia and across the world our Embassies will organise high profile events so that we really capture the imagination of the whole world.

We will ask all the countries present at the summit to make real practical commitments: to revise their military doctrines and training; to commit new support for local organisations and human rights defenders; to launch new partnerships and to prioritise this effort in their foreign policy; and to endorse and implement the new International Protocol which will help to increase the number of prosecutions worldwide.

We want Colombia to be represented in strength, and I hope Colombian civil society organisations will also accept our invitation to take part.

The Colombian government’s efforts internationally and at home demonstrate a clear commitment to tackling sexual violence.

As part of our strong support for those efforts, and I am glad to be able to announce two UK-funded projects in Colombia:

First, the British Embassy will work with two NGOs, LIMPAL and Casa Amazonia, directly to support survivors of sexual violence, train women’s organisations and connect them to government authorities.

Second, we will work with DeJusticia and the Attorney General’s Office to train prosecutors to investigate sexual violence in armed conflict, in support of your efforts to develop new national standards for investigation and prosecution.

We have also agreed that UK experts will visit Colombia to seek out views on the new International Protocol on the documentation and investigation of sexual violence in conflict which we hope will be adopted at the June Summit.

So, both internationally and here in Colombia we are already working together to prevent sexual violence and tackle impunity.

I hope Colombia will continue to translate its political commitment into practical steps, and that we can strengthen our international cooperation.

Colombia can play a vital role in the worldwide effort to end the horrors of warzone rape, and I have no doubt that working together with determination, courage and conviction, we can inspire many other nations to join us, make a difference to the lives of many people, and be able to say that by putting our shoulders to the wheel, we have hastened the day when the use of rape as a weapon of war will be consigned to the pages of history.