The Knesset Committee for the Advancement of the Status of Women and Gender Equality discussed on Wednesday the prevention of sexual violence in areas of conflict. The discussion was also held in some 40 parliaments around the world on Wednesday as part of a three-day summit in London on the issue co-hosted by actress Angelina Jolie, Special Envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and British Foreign Secretary William Hague.
British Ambassador to Israel Matthew Gould said during the debate in the Knesset “we are here to send a clear and united message against crimes that are unspeakably evil: the use of rape in conflict…A society that believes in human rights cannot agree that rape is a tool of war. What we do affects what happens. As an international community we must send a message to the world that we cannot let this continue. If we do not act, it may be said that the world is not interested and that justice was not brought to light.”
“If we decide that something should not be a part of struggles between groups, it will stop. There are things that even during war are unacceptable,” he said.
”What we do affects what happens,” Ambassador Gould continued. ”Our collective failure to tackle this issue before now has sent a message to those who are orchestrating atrocities today, including next door in Syria. It has sent the message that the world is not interested, that justice will not come, and a penalty will not be exacted. It has created a culture and expectation of impunity – an expectation shared by victims and perpetrators alike.”
”Led by the British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, and Angelina Jolie, the Special Envoy on the issue, we are taking action now because we believe that we can change things. We are building a wave of public opinion across the world against the use of sexual violence in conflict,” he declared.
”Our forebears proved it was possible adjust the world’s moral compass. Just think of slavery in the 18th century, and the extraordinary efforts to fight the slave trade. Or more recently, when the world has come together to ban cluster munitions, and chemical warfare,” Gould said during the discussion. ”We have in the past changed the parameters of what is acceptable and legal in conflict. We have created new moral and legal norms. This has made a difference before. And it can do so again.
”We must make clear that rape and sexual violence are outside the boundaries that world is prepared to tolerate, even in conflict. Sexual violence must never again be considered part and parcel of war. It must become known that those who use rape as a weapon of war will be investigated and brought to justice,” he said.
Committee Chairwoman MK Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid) told the ambassador that rape and sexual violence was an important topic that the committee addresses on a regular basis through cooperation with NGOs, passing legislation, budget allocation, and work on the ground. “Only international support will lead to the next stage – the sword will be place on the neck of us all,” said Lavie, referring to the burden and responsibility shared by the international community. ”We have seen how this sword lifted from us the shame of trafficking in women…The use of sexual violence is a war crime, and the criminals should be tried in the international court,” she stated.
Vered Sweed, the adviser to the prime minister on Women’s Affairs, said during the discussion that “rape is the worst possible crime.”
“A woman who has been raped lives the rest of her life with the consequences. And rape is a repeat offense. As such, when putting war criminals on trial, it is important that the punishment be acute,” she said. ”We hear about what is happening in Nigeria and India. I expect countries to impose sanctions on countries where girls go at night to the bathroom and get raped. Apart from protest, no active measure has been taken to release the girls who were kidnapped in Nigeria.”
MK Basel Ghattas (National Democratic Assembly) said the implementation of the international law regarding rape and sexual assault is not being properly enforced. ”It is important that the global initiative will lead not only to awareness but also to the enforcement of the law and the prosecution of criminals,” he said. ”We should consider setting up a special court rather than make do with the International Criminal Court – so there will be effective punishment.”
Attorney Roni Aloni Sadovnik pointed out that some sexual assaults in Israel are nationalistically-motivated. ”The courts, in general, do not recognize the victims of these attacks as victims of acts of terror. Last month, for the first time, a court recognized an eight-year-old girl who was raped and murdered by a man who infiltrated Israel from the Palestinian Authority as a victim of terror. The rapist from Gan-Ha`ir (in Tel Aviv), who was also a Palestinian infiltrator, was given an unprecedented prison sentence of 30 years,” the attorney noted.