Noting that sexual violence in conflict remains widespread, yet largely invisible, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today called for concerted efforts to "turn the tide" and rid the world of this scourge.
"We have the tools, political momentum and clarity of purpose to turn the tide on this crime. As we advance together, the United Nations will continue to provide strategic leadership to rid the world of sexual violence in conflict," Mr. Ban said in a message to the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, which is being held in London.
In the message, delivered by Zainab Hawa Bangura, the Secretary-General's Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, he said he was encouraged that the gathering brings together officials from different spheres, including the defence and security sector.
"It is essential to expand the 'circle of action,'" the Secretary-General noted.
The three-day gathering, which began on Tuesday, is co-chaired by United Kingdom Foreign Secretary William Hague and Angelina Jolie, who is the Special Envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
It brings together over 900 experts, non-governmental organizations, survivors, faith leaders and international organizations from around the globe to create momentum against sexual violence in conflict and practical action that impacts those on the ground.
"This Summit is an important vehicle to strengthen collective action to end impunity, boost services, improve the global response, ensure women's participation and empowerment, and enhance the role of the military and other security sector actors - including United Nations peacekeepers - to prevent conflict-related sexual violence," said Mr. Ban.
He noted that not long ago, conflict-related sexual violence was viewed as a "marginal, sad inevitability," but today, it is understood to be an urgent problem at the top of the global agenda.
"Sexual violence in conflict is widespread, yet largely invisible. These heinous acts send a loud message of terror to communities, yet they are shrouded in silence," the Secretary-General said.
"For victims, rape is often a life-long trauma, yet perpetrators rarely face justice. Those who bear the greatest responsibility for commanding or condoning mass rape are often the least likely to be held accountable."
He stressed the need to support national governments as they exercise their primary legal and moral responsibility to protect their citizens, and highlighted the examples of Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) - two countries where rape in conflict seemed intractable.
"Both are now demonstrating that change is possible," said Mr. Ban, noting that the DRC is developing new legal structures to end impunity for perpetrators.
"Both the DRC and Somalia have shown commitment at the highest level to end sexual violence, including by signing joint communiqués with the United Nations. I hope other countries confronted with conflict-related sexual violence will follow these examples."