World powers pledge action against rape as weapon of war

LONDON (AFP) - World powers pledged new measures and funds on Thursday to tackle rape and sexual violence used as a weapon of war, in a "historic" deal drawn up with UN special envoy Angelina Jolie.

G8 foreign ministers meeting in London agreed to commit US$35.5 million (S$43.9 million) to tackle what British Foreign Secretary William Hague likened to slavery as "one of the greatest and most persistent injustices in the world".

Under the new declaration, Mr Hague said rape and sexual violence during conflict would constitute grave breaches of the Geneva Convention, putting a responsibility on signatories to actively seek out and put perpetrators on trial.

"I am delighted to announce that today we have reached a historic agreement as G8 foreign ministers: pledging to work together to end sexual violence in conflict," Mr Hague said.

Hollywood actress Jolie, a United Nations special envoy for refugee issues, praised Mr Hague and the declaration signed at the Group of Eight ministerial meeting as "long-overdue".

"Rape is not a women's issue, or a humanitarian issue, it is a global issue and it belongs here at the top table of international decision-making where he has put it," she said.

Ms Jolie and Mr Hague visited the Democratic Republic of Congo last month to highlight the issue, which Britain has made a priority of its chairmanship of the G8 this year.

In one community in DR Congo, 11 babies between the age of six months and a year old were raped last year, UN special representative Zainab Hawa Bangura told the press conference.

Although Mr Hague conceded that the largest numbers of victims were in Africa - 250,000 women raped in DR Congo over the last decade and hundreds of thousands in the Rwandan genocide - he said tens of thousands had also been abused during the war in Bosnia.

The declaration committed the G8 to work towards a new protocol setting out how to investigate such crimes, provide new training for their militaries on how to deal with sexual violence and provide support for prosecutions in countries worst affected.

Ms Jolie said those raped had for too long "been the forgotten victims of war: responsible for none of the harm, but bearing the worst of the pain".

"But today, I believe, their voices have been heard, and that we finally have some hope to offer them."

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