Crimes against humanity

According to the United Nations, sexual violence in conflict is one of the greatest moral issues of our time.

And I agree.

It is a moral issue we face now and it has been a moral issue for time immemorial.

Historically, sexual violence in conflict has been characterised as a private crime, and not a matter of universal human rights. It was considered a crime against a woman's honour, rather than an act of gross physical violence.

During the Second World War, the Japanese created 'comfort women'; and the Soviet army is thought to have raped anywhere between one million and two million women in Eastern Europe and Germany.

Sixty years on, we again heard of horrendous violence against women and children during the conflict in the former Yugoslavia. Estimates of the total number of Bosnian women who were raped range from 10,000 to 50,000.

However, the use of violence as a weapon of war, as an orchestrated, institutionalised, industrialised terror tactic and combat tool is a horrifying and unimaginable phenomenon.

Historically the focus on sexual violence has been on state actors.

What we are now seeing with Daesh is a non-state actor engaging in some of the most unspeakable acts of sexual violence.

Women's bodies have become part of the terrain of conflict, according to a new report by Amnesty International. Rape and sexual abuse are not just a by-product of war but used as a deliberate military strategy.

The United Nations last month estimated that Daesh has forced some 1,500 women, teenage girls and boys into sexual slavery. A UN envoy on sexual violence in conflict found that girls from Iraq and Syria were stripped, sold and made to undergo over a dozen virginity reparation surgeries. The intense shame that accompanies these acts is too much for many women to bear, with a number later committing suicide.

Tackling the current use of sexual violence in conflict by Daesh requires a multifaceted approach.

We need more female peacekeepers, more women in senior positions in peace operations, early warning indicators, promoting accountability and fighting impunity. This would include enacting criminal law reforms, ensuring victim reparations and sending all evidence possible to the International Criminal Court.

I encourage those participating in the high-level review of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 later this year to consider an appropriate response to this new combat tool by non-state actors—the violation and torture of women and children through rape, prostitution and sexual slavery.

There are of course countless reasons to destroy, degrade and contain terrorism in all its forms.

However, for me, the use of sexual violence as an act of terror is one of the worst possible crimes against humanity.

We must, we absolutely must, fight it in every way we can.

Here is the link to my full speech.

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