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Sexual Violence in Conflict

Volume 571: debated on Thursday 28 November 2013

With permission, Mr Speaker, I will update the House on the Government’s initiative on preventing sexual violence in conflict. This issue is not about politics but about our common humanity; it is not enough to be united in condemnation of it, unless we are united in action against it.

It was only when the true horror of slavery came to light in the 18th century that our nation acted against it. In our time we have come to understand the true horror of war zone sexual violence in Bosnia, Rwanda, Colombia, Somalia and many other nations, including Syria. I will never forget meeting young women in a hospital in Goma who were so damaged by rape that they required surgery; the women in a refugee camp who said they were being “raped like animals”; male survivors in Sarajevo, who 20 years on still live lives shattered by trauma; or women in refugee camps in Darfur who were raped collecting firewood. What they all had in common was that, unjustly, they bore the stigma, shame and loneliness, while their attackers walked free and unpunished.

This is rape used as a tactic or weapon of war, to terrorise, humiliate and ethnically cleanse. It destroys lives, fuels conflict, creates refugees, and is often a tragic link in a chain of human rights abuses from sexual slavery to forced marriage and human trafficking. Sexual violence affects men and boys as well as women and girls. It undermines reconciliation, and traps survivors in conflict, poverty and insecurity. Preventing it is a moral cause for our generation.

Our goal must be to end the use of rape as a weapon of war, no longer treating it as an inevitable consequence of conflict but as a crime that can be stopped. We need to put perpetrators behind bars and restore dignity to the survivors, who are often rejected by their families, suffer illness, lack proper housing, are not employed, have no access to education, and struggle to survive. Ending war zone rape is the aim of the initiative I launched 18 months ago with Angelina Jolie, the special envoy of the High Commissioner for Refugees. I pay tribute to her for helping us galvanise world opinion.

In April, during our presidency, the G8 adopted an historic declaration that promised to eradicate sexual violence in conflict. In June, I chaired a meeting of the United Nations Security Council that unanimously adopted resolution 2106—its first resolution on sexual violence in three years. It was co-sponsored by an unprecedented 46 nations and strengthened the UN’s capabilities. In September, during and after the UN General Assembly, we put forward a new declaration of commitment to end sexual violence in conflict. That has been endorsed by 137 countries—more than two thirds of all members of the United Nations.

At our behest, those countries have promised not to enter into or support peace agreements that give amnesty for rape. Suspects can be arrested in any of those countries, all of which have now recognised rape and serious sexual violence as grave breaches of the Geneva conventions, so that the principle of universal jurisdiction applies. They will support new global efforts to give aid and justice to survivors, and for the first time every UN peacekeeping mission will automatically include the protection of civilians against sexual violence in conflict. Furthermore, all 137 countries have agreed to support the development of a new international protocol on the investigation and documentation of sexual violence in conflict that we have proposed. Those are groundbreaking commitments to erode impunity and support victims. This month, our attendance at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Sri Lanka ensured that the final communiqué contained the first ever commitment by all 53 member states to prevent and respond to sexual violence.

We are underpinning that diplomatic campaign with practical action. Over the past six months we have worked with leaders in 14 countries who are champions of this initiative in their regions: the Presidents of Liberia, Malawi, Senegal and Tanzania, the Prime Minister of East Timor, and the Foreign Ministers of Australia, Croatia, Denmark, Guatemala, Jordan, Mexico, South Korea, the UAE and Indonesia. I thank them all for their leadership.

We have drawn up the new draft protocol with experts from all over the world, and it sets out ideal international standards for documenting and investigating sexual violence in conflict zones. Its purpose is to increase the number of prosecutions worldwide, by ensuring that the strongest evidence and information are collected, and that survivors receive proper support. Since April we have deployed our team of experts to the Syrian borders, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo, where they have trained health professionals and human rights defenders in documenting crimes, investigating standards, and collecting and storing forensic evidence.

In Mali, we are deploying experts with the EU training mission. They have trained two battalions of soldiers so far in international humanitarian and human rights law, in a country where men in uniform have often been accused of carrying out some of the worst rapes. We are giving new support to the UN, and have provided £1 million to support the work of the special representative on sexual violence in conflict, Zainab Bangura, to whom I pay tribute for her inspiring work. We will second an expert to her team in 2014.

The Department for International Development is playing a vital part. It has agreed a new approach to protecting women and girls in emergency situations with the UN and civil society, and launched a new £25 million research and innovation fund to help address violence against women in conflict settings.

All that represents significant progress—action begun by eight nations has become global; we have driven the need to end war zone sexual violence up the world’s agenda; and we have generated a new willingness from Governments around the world to take a stand on the issue—but it is only a beginning. We will not succeed until we shatter the culture of impunity, make a real difference to the lives of survivors and stop such crimes happening. Therefore, while we continue our diplomacy and practical work, lobbying more countries to join us and urging those who have done so to fulfil their promises, we want to achieve another step change in global awareness and readiness to act. We need to bring together in one place all the people who are driving forward the initiative, to open the eyes of many others and to ensure that commitments to practical actions are fulfilled.

As the next stage in the campaign, I have decided to convene a global summit in London from 11 to 13 June next year, co-chaired by me and UNHCR Special Envoy Jolie. We will invite the states that have endorsed the declaration, and legal, military, civil society and humanitarian representatives from around the world. We will open up the summit to civil society and members of the public. There will be a large fringe throughout the summit, enabling events on conflict prevention, women’s rights, international justice, and business and human rights. We will run simultaneous events in our embassies and high commissions on every continent, so that this is not only a summit in London, but an international global event that continues around the clock throughout the duration of the summit. We intend it to be the largest summit ever staged on sexual violence in conflict.

We want to bring the world to a point of no return, creating irreversible momentum towards ending war zone rape and sexual violence worldwide. We will ask all the countries present to make real practical commitments. We will ask them to revise their military doctrines and training, and their training and operations on peacekeeping missions. We will ask them to commit new support for local and grassroots organisations and human rights defenders. We will encourage groups of nations to form new partnerships to support conflict-affected countries, to make the matter a priority in their Foreign Ministries, and to set up teams of experts, as we have done. In addition, we will launch the new international protocol and ask all countries to ensure its implementation. We will work ahead of the summit to secure even wider endorsement of the UN declaration and the participation of all the world’s major powers, and we will seek ideas from civil society, other Governments, UN agencies, and regional and multilateral organisations, to build the momentum.

The campaign aims to ensure that sexual violence can no longer be a feature of conflict in the 21st century, but our ultimate objective must be to eradicate all forms of violence against women and girls, in all societies. There is no greater strategic prize for this century than the attainment of full social, economic and political rights for all women everywhere, and their full participation in their societies. We will not secure that unless we change global attitudes to women, root out discrimination and violence against them wherever it is found, including in our own countries, and show the political will to make women’s participation in peace building and conflict resolution world wide a reality, including at the Geneva peace conference on Syria.

Our work on the initiative stretches across the Government. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has asked immigration officials to look at how to improve guidance and training on gender-based asylum claims, and she is introducing a modem slavery Bill to give authorities the powers to investigate and prosecute human traffickers. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development has made the protection and empowerment of girls and women a priority. By 2015, the UK will have helped millions more girls and women to get access to education, financial services, jobs and land rights, and our new £35 million programme aims to reduce the practice of female genital mutilation by 30% in at least 10 countries in the next five years.

Our country is putting new effort, new single-minded focus, new resources and new political will into advancing the rights of women and girls, and ending war zone rape worldwide. In 2014, we will intensify that work in every respect, drawing on the united support of this House of Commons, the work of Members from all parties, the excellence of our diplomats and aid workers, and the strength of our alliances. Working to end sexual violence in conflict is part of the attainment of full rights for all women everywhere, and in the strong tradition of this country’s championing of human rights and freedom.

I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement and for advance sight of it.

The Foreign Secretary is right to say that condemnation is simply not enough and that action is required against these abhorrent and heinous crimes. When this matter was last debated in this House, I put on record the Opposition’s support for the Government’s preventing sexual violence initiative, and I paid tribute to the Foreign Secretary’s considerable and personal efforts in this area. I am happy to do so again today. Indeed, I welcome the steps that have been taken since that debate in March, including by the Foreign Secretary himself, to help maintain and to raise the profile of this issue on the international stage. In particular, I welcome the decision to host a global summit in London next year, co-chaired by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Special Envoy Jolie.

The Foreign Secretary did not make reference to the work of campaigning organisations like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Saferworld and others. I hope and trust that that was an inadvertent oversight, but I am sure he will join me in welcoming their vital contribution to help advance this cause in recent months and over many years. Their work has been indispensible in placing this issue firmly on the international agenda, so will he assure the House of their active and engaged participation in the summit to be held in London next year?

Sexual violence in conflict is today all too prevalent across the world. The perpetrators are rarely held to account for their crimes, as we have just heard. Indeed, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described the issue as

“the most pervasive violation of human rights across the globe”.

The Foreign Secretary is therefore right when he says that this is the time for the international community to step up its efforts to respond to these continuing and pervasive crimes.

When the Foreign Secretary last addressed this House on the matter back in March, he set out a number of measures that the Government were introducing to try to tackle this issue globally. I would like to ask a series of questions about their subsequent implementation. First, sexual violence as a tool of war remains one of the least prosecuted crimes, and I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s focus on that work today. Will he set out for the House how many UK personnel have been deployed in post-conflict areas, as part of the UK team of experts, to help improve local accountability structures since the initiative was first launched? Will he set out what discussions he has had with international partners on contributing their skilled and experienced staff to an international team of experts that can be deployed more widely? I welcomed the UK’s commitment to increase funding to the UN Secretary-General’s special representative on sexual violence in conflict. Will the Foreign Secretary update the House on whether other countries have followed the UK’s lead in increasing funding for this office?

The Foreign Secretary covered some specific countries of concern. Despite our well rehearsed disagreement with the Government on the Prime Minister’s attendance at the Commonwealth Heads of Government summit last month, I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s efforts to raise the issue of preventing sexual violence on the agenda while he was there. During his visit, he emphasised that the UK was ready to offer more assistance and co-operation to the Sri Lankan Government to tackle this issue. What response has he received from the Sri Lankan Government since the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting to those offers and how he plans to take this work forward?

In response to a written question in October, the Government confirmed that Burma has now been added to the list of countries, despite being omitted from the original list. Will the Foreign Secretary explain the reason for not including Burma as part of the initiative when it was first launched?

The Foreign Secretary spoke about the work that is being done today by the UK’s team of experts on the Syrian borders. Can he provide any more details about the nature of the work, and whether there are plans for support to be given to those in need in Syria itself? Will he also say whether he raised this issue with the Syrian National Coalition when it was in London last month?

The Government have taken important steps to help to raise this issue on the international stage and we pay generous tribute to their efforts to do so. Where they continue to pursue steps to help tackle this pervasive and deplorable abuse of human rights, they can rest assured that they will have the Opposition’s support in their endeavours.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his support for this initiative and our work on it in recent months. It is one of those subjects on which cross-party support, pursued consistently by all of us, is very important and helps to make a big impact on the rest of the world. I know that feelings on this will be appropriately strong among all political parties in the House.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the campaigning organisations. I mentioned that I envisaged the summit giving a big role to civil society, and that certainly includes all the organisations he mentioned. I have often stressed how our efforts build on the good work done at the UN and by non-governmental organisations around the world. I am pleased to say that many of those NGOs sit on the PSVI steering board that I have established, so they advise me directly on the development of this initiative. This afternoon, I will also be meeting organisations like Amnesty—it sits on our human rights advisory group, which also discusses these subjects. NGOs and other campaigning groups are thus fully involved in this initiative, and I value their support enormously.

The right hon. Gentleman is right that this is the least-prosecuted crime. That, of course, is what we are trying to change: shattering the culture of impunity is our central objective. We want to break into that and show that prosecutions can take place. We have more than 70 people—doctors, lawyers, forensic experts, experts in gender-based violence—in our very impressive team of experts. They have deployed in much smaller numbers—they have other jobs in their areas of expertise—to various countries, some of which I listed in my statement. For example, we have deployed a team to Libya to assess how best to engage with civil society and women’s organisations there, while the basic infantry training we provide to Libyan troops will incorporate a sexual violence element. As I mentioned, we are doing the same in Mali.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about Burma. We are providing support to legal assistance centres in Burmese refugee camps in Thailand and to trauma care camps in Kachin state, both of which deal with rape cases. Our embassy in Rangoon is currently considering how we can do more in Burma, and we are also promoting legal reforms that address and deter sexual violence.

We have done a lot of work on the Syrian borders, supporting the collection of evidence of human rights violations and abuses, including of sexual violence. We have trained more than 300 Syrian journalists and activists in documenting and exposing human rights abuses, including crimes of sexual violence. These are examples of the support our team of experts are providing.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about funds for the special representative. We have been the most generous of countries in recent years, but other countries have given additional funding—not many of them on the same scale as us, but I continue to encourage them to do more.

On Sri Lanka, yes we secured the commitment in the Commonwealth communiqué, which I have to point out we could not have done had we not been there. While I was in Sri Lanka, I also gave a public speech on preventing sexual violence in conflict that was widely reported in the Sri Lankan media—on the television and across the newspapers—so I think we drew the attention of a far wider audience in Sri Lanka to this subject. I discussed with the Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka specific support for our initiative, and we await their reply on whether they will support it. Of course, there are aspects that the Sri Lankan Government will find difficult to sign up to, which is why it is important to put it to them and to continue putting it to them. We can only do that, however, if we meet them, which we would not have done had we followed the right hon. Gentleman’s advice.

That, however, is our one disagreement. Otherwise, of course, there is strong cross-party unity on this issue, and I look forward to Opposition Members as well as Government Members playing a big role at next June’s global summit.

Order. Although, untypically, few Members are seeking to catch my eye on this statement, I remind the House that there is a statement by the Secretary of State for International Development to follow, and thereafter, under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee, two debates, the first of which, in particular, is heavily subscribed. As a consequence, there is a premium upon brevity from Back Benchers and Front Benchers alike, first to be exemplified by Mr Alistair Burt.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. This is the second time you have caught me like this; I will do my best.

Yesterday I had the privilege of chairing a meeting at Portcullis House, which was attended by a number of Members. It was organised by the National Alliance of Women’s Organisations and the Centre for Global Justice to discuss the issues raised by today’s statement. People were full of praise for what has been a quite extraordinary and exceptional personal effort by my right hon. Friend to bring this matter forward. I do not think anyone should minimise that. The same groups will be very interested in next year’s meeting.

I would like to raise the difficult subject of abortion. Is my right hon. Friend convinced that there is now a complete international consensus and that, although there are different attitudes to abortion, there is no restriction on providing aid and support for full medical access to all treatment, including the right to abortion services, needed by women who have been the victims of rape in conflict, or is it still the case that some countries hang back on their aid and support or make them conditional? Will my right hon. Friend raise this issue with the countries where that might be the case?

I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for the support he has consistently given to this initiative. We will make sure that the organisations he mentioned will be fully involved in the global summit and in all our continuing work next year.

The position of the UK Government on the issue he raises is that safe abortion reduces recourse to unsafe abortion and thus saves lives, although we do not consider that there is any general right to abortion under international humanitarian or human rights law. Women and adolescent girls, however, must have the right to make their own decisions about their sexual and reproductive health and well-being. The July practice paper from the Department for International Development clearly outlines the UK policy position on safe and unsafe abortion in developing countries. There are, of course, some countries holding back on this issue, but we will continue to encourage them to adopt the same approach as us.

I spoke to some Afghanistan MPs this week and was quite concerned when they said that, because of the Afghan culture, women there could not achieve equal opportunities. What training is being given to the Afghan army so that, particularly post-2014, it sees it as part of its role to protect women from sexual and other forms of violence?

As the hon. Lady knows, this is part of an immense subject. We regularly raise with the Afghan Government the issue of the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan in the future. We certainly try to build this into our mentoring of the Afghan national security forces. Given that we will contribute substantially to those security forces financially after the end of the 2014, we will continue to pursue this issue; it should be in their training.

May I commend the Foreign Secretary on his personal commitment to this important work and welcome the international response to the Government’s initiative? It is certainly a good start. The Foreign Secretary rightly described a comprehensive approach to this subject and spoke about the work of the Home Office and DFID. Will he confirm that the Ministry of Defence is also completely committed to this—both in principle and in practice? Our military personnel do good work in training foreign troops in various parts of the world. Is this agenda now firmly embedded in their programmes?

My right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary is very supportive of this work. I will ask the Ministry of Defence to play its part—along with other Government Departments, which I know will be keen to do so—in the global summit next year. One of our objectives is to build into the work of militaries around the world the importance of this issue. That is what we are trying to do with the various training missions I mentioned. Our MOD has a lot to offer—it can contribute a lot in that regard—and we will discuss further how it can best continue to do so.

As chair of the all-party group on human rights, I know it has done a considerable amount of work over the years in hosting women who are the victims of rape. The Foreign Secretary should add this one to his list. I have encountered victims of rape in many countries of the world, including in Rwanda, Iraq and East Timor, and in East Timor, in particular, there has been no follow-up to the rapes that were committed by Indonesian forces against many of its citizens.

May I also ask the Foreign Office itself to be more sensitive towards victims of rape who approach the consular services? Such victims have been treated with considerable insensitivity in the past. I think that the Foreign Secretary will know of the specific case to which I am alluding.

The right hon. Lady is well aware of the importance of this issue because of all the work that she does. I hope that she will be heavily involved in all the work that we do next year, both personally and through the all-party parliamentary group. There are difficult issues for many countries to face in this regard, and we are trying to ensure that they face those issues by involving their leaders in what we are doing. That is continuing work.

It is very important for the Foreign Office to be sensitive to these issues in its consular work. The right hon. Lady will have seen the publicity about one particular case this week. The Foreign Office has apologised unreservedly for what happened, and, having looked into the case, I am satisfied that it is not representative of the normal work of the consular service, including its work in Cairo, where the incident took place. Our consular staff have been dealing with an average of five rapes and up to 25 sexual assaults a year, and the problems that arose in that case have not been apparent in others. Nevertheless, we will hold ourselves to high standards.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his leadership and progress on preventing sexual violence in conflict. It was excellent to hear about the global summit that will take place next June, which I think will give hope to women throughout the world. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government have a cross-departmental taskforce to deal with this issue? I note that both the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for International Development are present, and I know that they consider it to be a top priority. It would be good for all Departments to work together, and to make it clear once and for all that sexual violence should not be tolerated.

There is a living, breathing demonstration of the cross-Government work that is being done, in the form of not only Foreign Office Ministers but the Secretaries of State for the Home Department and the Department for International Development. Their work on the wider agenda is crucial. The Foreign Office leads the work on the initiative to deal with sexual violence in conflict, but I have already told the House how helpful the work of the other Departments is. There is also an inter-ministerial group on violence against women and girls, which is overseen by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. So the broad answer to my hon. Friend’s question is yes.

I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s statement, but may I press him on just one aspect of it? I think that we can be a little complacent about much of this violence, whether it takes place in conflict zones or here in our own communities—and disturbing evidence emerged this week about rapes of girls in London gangs. Is not the real problem the fact that people in our own communities as well as in foreign communities do not believe in equal rights for women, and do not think that women are equal? We must stop avoiding that problem and deal with it here, as well as dealing with it in other countries.

I agree, and I hope that none of us will be complacent. What is happening in some societies—not necessarily in conflict—is going backwards at the moment. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about what lies at the root of the problem, and that is why, in my statement, I set this initiative in the context of a broader effort. We are seeking to prevent sexual violence in conflict, but changing the entire global attitude to that—which is what we are setting out to do—would have a beneficial effect on attitudes to women in many other situations and in many societies. I must emphasise again the importance of ensuring that all our own domestic conduct and policies also push in that direction.

I congratulate the Foreign Secretary on his announcement, and congratulate Ministers on all the work that they are doing. I should also draw attention to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

I have visited the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Jordan, where I was able to speak to women in refugee camps. May I remind the Foreign Secretary of the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) about the need for women to have access to full reproductive rights, and to be able to look after their bodies in the way that they feel that they should be looking after them? That issue really needs to be raised at the conference in June.

Absolutely. My hon. Friend knows from her work that the DRC is one of the countries most affected by these issues in the world, but I am pleased to say that its Government are supportive of this initiative. They are involved in it, and I have met some of their Ministers on my own visits to the DRC. She is right to suggest that, because the conference will involve a considerable fringe that will address a wide range of issues as well as agreeing our protocol on sexual violence in conflict, there will be scope for addressing fully the issues that she has raised.

I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s announcement on the summit next year, but we need to get our own house in order as well, given that two women die each week as a result of domestic violence here. It is good to see the Home Secretary sitting next to the Foreign Secretary in the Chamber today. May I press the Foreign Secretary further on the answer that he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Roberta Blackman-Woods) on protection for women in Afghanistan? Will he tell us what protection is being given to women human rights defenders there?

There is already training in human rights for the Afghan forces, but no one should disguise the fact that this is going to be an immense challenge over the next few years. That is why the hon. Lady and others are raising these issues. We raise the matter regularly with Afghan Ministries and I have said that we need to build it into the support that we give to the Afghan national security forces. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development has also allocated a substantial amount of development aid for Afghanistan after 2014. We will ensure that the importance of these issues runs through all of that, but this will be one of the biggest challenges in the world, and the hon. Lady is right to raise it.

The cultural attitude towards rape victims in some countries, and the rejection of them, means that their suffering can be lifelong. In the Foreign Secretary’s discussions with the countries participating in the international protocol, has he detected any real understanding of that fact, or any real determination to address those cultural attitudes?

My hon. Friend is quite right. One of the most haunting and disturbing aspects of this whole thing is the fact that the people affected go on to be lifelong victims as a result of the stigma, the shame and the isolation from their families. We have to turn that around by changing the global attitudes to these subjects, so that it is the perpetrators who suffer the shame and stigma. That is our objective. I have seen a recognition of the need to do that among the leadership in many of the countries that have experienced these terrible crimes. We need to see the full implementation of the protocol that we will arrive at together, and the fulfilment of the commitments in the declaration that those countries have signed. Our main objective over the next few years will be to change the situation on the ground.

I have listened carefully to the Foreign Secretary’s remarks on Burma. He will know of the reports of sexual violence against the Rohingya minority in Rakhine and against other minorities in Kachin state. In the light of those reports, there is scepticism about the depth of the regime’s commitment to the initiative. What assurances has he sought from the regime, and what role does he envisage it playing at the summit next year?

That scepticism is understandable. This will require a big change in attitudes and increased priority to be given to this issue in Burma. We have raised the matter with the Burmese Government, but we will need to go on doing so, because the scale of the problem is substantial, including in the areas that the hon. Gentleman mentions. I cannot give any categorical assurances that the Burmese Government will do the right thing, but I can assure him that they will receive very strong encouragement from Her Majesty’s Government to do so.

The whole House has rightly paid tribute to the Foreign Secretary’s remarkable personal leadership in this area. I want to ask him about prosecutions. It is hard enough to get convictions for rape in peacetime in the UK, let alone elsewhere after the fog of war. Have there been any successful prosecutions? What would the Foreign Secretary consider to be a good result in this context?

There have been very few. For instance, there have been just a handful of convictions in Bosnia following the many thousands of rape cases. In any of the conflicts in recent times, only a tiny percentage of rape cases have resulted in a conviction—too few to make any difference to the culture of impunity. There are one or two important international prosecutions proceeding at the moment, but we will be able to judge their impact only when they have been concluded.

My hon. Friend asked what would constitute success. Success would be a sufficient number of prosecutions to change attitudes. Of course, that will take a long time to build up, but we will be making progress once military commanders know that when they issue such orders, justice will have a long reach and a long memory and there is a high chance that it will catch up with them.

In order to secure prosecutions, there must be proper investigation. We have a lot of experience in our police forces in this country, where huge strides have been made in treating victims properly and in running investigations. Is that experience being drawn on by the expert panel?

Yes, that expertise is present in our team of experts. They are focusing on advising organisations and Governments in other countries on the documentation of these crimes, and on the use of forensics. The protocol that we want to agree next year will set out international standards on the investigation and documentation of such crimes, so that evidence can more easily be used across the world. Setting such standards will raise the standard of documentation and records, and the ability to investigate these crimes, in many countries. So, yes—the hon. Lady’s point is absolutely taken on board.

I praise the personal commitment, energy and dedication of the Foreign Secretary in pursuing this really important issue. I also applaud the cross-departmental working between the Foreign Office, the Home Office and the Department for International Development; it shows this Government working at their very best. In which countries and regions does my right hon. Friend expect to see the most progress over the next five to 10 years?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. We hope that the biggest progress will be seen in those countries that have experienced the most serious problems over the past few decades. We have seen those problems in Europe, in Bosnia and Kosovo, as well as in Africa, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, Liberia and Rwanda. We have also seen them in south America, in Colombia. Hon. Members have also referred to the problems in Burma. Most of the continents of the world contain countries in which we want to see big progress being made on tackling these issues. As I have said, it is encouraging that, in most cases, the Governments of those countries are now signed up to our declaration and our initiative. That means that there is a possibility of making real progress.

A lot of sexual violence is occurring in Sri Lanka, and it has been going on for some time. Is the Foreign Secretary really comfortable with President Rajapaksa playing such a leading role in the Commonwealth at the moment?

I am comfortable that it was right to raise all these issues in Sri Lanka. As I mentioned as gently as I could earlier, we could not have done that had we not been there. [Interruption.] It is apparently now the policy of the Opposition that we should have been there.

So there is a little redefinition, but that is allowed. So we have made an impact on this issue in Sri Lanka that we could not have made otherwise, particularly in the speech—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman says that I am misrepresenting the position, but we understood the Opposition to be saying that we should not go to Sri Lanka. If we had not been to Sri Lanka, we would not have been able to do anything of this: to secure the communiqué; to make a speech on sexual violence to raise the issue with the Sri Lankan Government and to have coverage all over the Sri Lankan media. So Opposition Members can shake their heads or stick them in the sand, but the effect is the same. The answer is that I am comfortable that we did the right thing to raise this issue in a big way in Sri Lanka.