With sexual violence increasingly recognized as a public health threat and more frequently being used as a weapon of war, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) today gathered more than 250 participants from 30 countries in Brussels for the first major international conference addressing the problem in conflict-torn countries.
The three-day International Symposium on Sexual Violence in Conflict and Beyond convened by UNFPA on behalf of the European Commission and the Belgian Government comes at a time when sexual violence is increasingly being recognized as a significant public health, human rights and development issue in countries affected by conflict.
Participants include heads of United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), human rights activists and researchers, government ministers, doctors and other field-based humanitarian workers, parliamentarians, representatives from the International Criminal Court (ICC), military and police officers, war correspondents and other members of the media.
Although sexual violence in wartime is not new, a growing body of evidence suggests that it may be becoming more common, UNFPA said. The trend towards more civil and regional conflicts means civilians are targeted more than ever before. Systematic rape has been a prominent feature of recent conflicts across the world.
Sexual violence does not occur only during armed attacks; women and young people also become highly vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation during flight, in displacement camps, and even during aid distribution. High levels of sexual violence may persist even after conflict has officially ended, due to a residual culture of violence and shattered legal systems that fail to protect survivors or prosecute perpetrators.