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Tim Cole

Former British Ambassador to Cuba

Part of FCDO Human Rights UK in Cuba

6th June 2014 Havana, Cuba

Let’s end this horror now

Before I joined the Foreign Office I spent many years working for humanitarian NGOs in central Africa – Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo – where I experienced first-hand the horrors of war and the devastation it can bring to communities, families and individuals.

In those conflicts and others, one of the most destructive, cruel and barbaric practices was and is the use of rape as a weapon of war. For many years this has been allowed to go unpunished but at last sexual violence in conflict has been recognised as one of the great injustices of our lifetime and next week in London a Global Summit will be held to address the issue.

Sexual violence is hard to document, let alone investigate. Perpetrators do not discriminate, because it’s not about sex, but violence, terror, power and control. When rape is committed during conflict, it has often been seen as an inevitable part of war. But even war has rules. So just as the world could agree that land mines have no place on the battlefield, the world must agree to end sexual violence in conflict.

In London between 10-13 June, the UK Foreign Secretary, William Hague, and UN Special Envoy, Angelina Jolie, will co-host the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. Representatives of governments, civil society, the military and the judiciary will all take part. So too will the public. Events will also take place around the world, including in Santiago de Cuba. Government representatives to the Global Summit will be asked to commit to concrete action that will help remove wartime rape and sexual violence from the world’s arsenal of cruelty. You can help to ensure they do so.

It will be a Summit like no other, because sexual violence is a crime like no other. Women and men are made to suffer its horrors in conflicts around the world, and shocking as it may seem, many victims are very young girls and boys. Sexual violence carries a corrosive after-effect that lasts a lifetime: an unjust and destructive shame for the victims and their families.

But I firmly believe that this can – and must – change.

The appalling truth is that only a tiny number of perpetrators of these crimes have ever been brought to trial, let alone convicted. That is why at the Summit we will launch the first International Protocol on the Documentation and Investigation of Sexual Violence in Conflict. The Protocol will help investigators preserve information and evidence in the aftermath of an attack, improve the chances of someone being successfully prosecuted later, and protect victims and survivors from further trauma.

At the Summit, we want governments to announce their support for the Protocol and to encourage local activists, lawyers, police personnel, and doctors to use it. We also want governments to make sure that their national laws on rape and sexual violence are in line with international standards, so that there’s a greater chance of securing successful prosecutions for war crimes in their own courts. The Summit will also look at the role that the military can play. When sexual violence occurs in conflict zones, soldiers are often the first people on the scene, but are not always properly equipped or trained to deal with this sensitive problem. This needs to change. And Armies are often responsible for carrying out these abhorrent acts. This must stop. Finally, we hope the governments of the world’s wealthiest nations will announce new funding support, including to local grass-roots organisations which often work at the heart of the most affected communities.

But government action alone is not enough. We need every family and community to change the culture that stigmatises survivors and to be united in their abhorrence for these crimes, so that any man with a gun will think twice before ordering or committing rape.

It is time to support survivors, shatter the culture of impunity and ensure that justice is done, both now and in the future. It is #TimeToAct.

4 comments on “Let’s end this horror now

  1. Your Fairly Averageness,
    Your comments on the necessity of changing the cultural stigmatism associated with rape are interesting. Shouldn’t the media of these respective countries be the first to lead the way in this field? The governments can, of course, raise the issue through media campaigns, but closer work with the media to breach the issue and educate the public would in turn affect the demands made on the government. In countries reluctant to sign the protocol (perhaps those with guilty military personnel) would it be appropriate to invite and involve the media? Of course, in some countries the media may not dare venture where the government is unwilling to tread particularly if there are perpetrators in elevated positions. Anyway, I would be interested to hear your thoughts on this when you get around to it.

    1. Louisa
      Sorry for the delay in replying. I absolutely agree. In fact, I’d go further and say everyone has a duty to bring these crimes to public attention.

  2. Dear Tim ,
    reading yr. report ’bout this horror of sexual violence in conflicts was very interesting . Of course , I ‘ve had read and heard a lot of such disgusting crimes. But most notable for new for me was the shocking fact , that some of these rapes were “ordered” by higher ranking soldiers and committed by the ” average” ones. Looks to me , that the “higher ones” just don ‘t wanna get dirty hands. Well , right at this Tuesday , June 10 th , no-one can tell sthg. ’bout the success or the result of this described Global Summit in London and esp. the Protocol. But at least everyone can support the efforts there in London : by drawing attention to it at yr. working place , neighbourhood or with yr. friends. By the way : it would be very interesting to know which governments d i d n ‘t sent representatives today. Hope , their names will be also (black?-) listed at the Protocol.
    Best wishes & much success, liebe Grüßle ond viel Erfolg,
    Ingo-Steven , Stuttgart

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About Tim Cole

Hi! I’m Tim Cole, the British Ambassador to Cuba. I arrived in Havana in August 2012 and presented my credentials as British Ambassador the following month. I’ve been a diplomat…

Hi! I’m Tim Cole, the British Ambassador to Cuba. I arrived in Havana in August 2012 and presented my credentials as British Ambassador the following month. I’ve been a diplomat since 2001; before Cuba, I spent 5 years in London where I worked on Pan-African policy and global economic issues and 6 years in southern Africa as Deputy Head of Mission in Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Most of my career has been in Africa as before joining the FCO I ran humanitarian aid programmes in Central Africa for the British NGOs Christian Aid and Save the Children. I’m married to Clare and we have 2 children – Jonathan and Zea.

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