At the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, the UK secured agreement to strengthen capacity to tackle sexual violence in conflict-affected states, to improve the monitoring and documentation of cases of sexual violence, and to empower victims to access justice. Thirty-four members of the Commonwealth have endorsed our declaration of commitment to end sexual violence in conflict.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that response. He met many civil society groups in Sri Lanka recently and spoke at length about this issue. Will he assure me and the House that we will maintain the pressure on this issue, particularly in respect of our Commonwealth partners?
Yes, absolutely. I gave a speech on this issue at a special event in Colombo in Sri Lanka a few weeks ago. I also met local non-governmental organisations and civil society representatives to learn more about it. We will continue to raise this issue in Sri Lanka and other conflict-affected states, where such matters are controversial and sometimes historically difficult, and to gather the maximum possible support ahead of next June’s global summit, which I announced last week.
In Sri Lanka, it is not unusual for a rape case to take 12 years to be resolved or brought to court. There is little or no accountability for security forces that are involved in such violence. Will the Foreign Secretary outline the specific measures that were agreed with the Sri Lankan Government following his recent trip?
In common with other Governments, we have called on the Sri Lankan authorities to investigate in an independent and credible manner the allegations of sexual violence, including the allegations that it was committed by Sri Lankan forces during and after the recent conflict. The Prime Minister has made it clear that in the absence of an independent investigation, we will press for an international investigation. We will continue to put that case. Sri Lanka has not yet stated its support for our declaration on ending sexual violence in conflict, but we will continue, as I am sure will Members across the House, to argue that it should do so.
I warmly commend my right hon. Friend for his initiative on preventing sexual violence in conflict. To deliver the results that he and all of us want to see, what point has he found in his research to be the most incentivising on the leaders of countries that we need to encourage to make the matter a priority?
The crucial point is that although there is an overwhelming moral argument for dealing with the issue, there are also important considerations of conflict resolution. Conflicts are not resolved unless sexual violence is tackled, because it perpetuates conflict, divides communities and pits them against each other into the long-term future. Many leaders across the world can see that, which is why countries such as Somalia and Ministers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo support the initiative that we have taken.
Yes, of course. I do not think the hon. Gentleman will have found any statement in recent years where the Prime Minister and I differ—I hope he has not. Opposition Front Benchers are thinking hard about that now. Of course we stand by that statement. In March, there will be a session of the Human Rights Council, of which, I am pleased to say, the United Kingdom was re-elected as a voting member last month. We will use that position to raise this issue along with many others around the world.
Forty-one out of 53 Commonwealth countries criminalise same-sex relationships, as documented by the Kaleidoscope Trust in a report just in advance of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. What progress was made in addressing that stain on the reputation of the Commonwealth and the personal freedom of its citizens?
Frankly, too little progress has been made on that in recent years. The United Kingdom raises the matter, and in fact I gave a speech at the previous CHOGM in Australia specifically about the importance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights in the Commonwealth. We raise the matter regularly with our partners in the Commonwealth, but it is an area in which the human rights record of the Commonwealth as a whole is not good enough.
I very much welcome the Foreign Secretary’s efforts on the preventing sexual violence initiative, but as he has said, he came away from CHOGM without having got a commitment from President Rajapaksa to endorse the initiative. Given that face-to-face lobbying by the Foreign Secretary, and I hope by the Prime Minister as well, failed to convince the Sri Lankan Government to sign up, what steps does he think he can take now to ensure that they make that commitment in the near future?
We can take many steps. First, 34 countries of the Commonwealth—and 137 countries in the world as a whole—have now signed the declaration. I spoke last night to the diplomatic corps here and said that now that only a minority of countries in the world have not signed our declaration on sexual violence, it is time for them to get on with it and not be left out of that work. Of course, Sri Lanka is one of the hardest countries to convince about that, for instance because one of the provisions of our declaration is that there will be no amnesty in peace agreements for crimes of sexual violence and that there will be real accountability for what happened in the past. It is easy to see why the Sri Lankan Government do not want to embrace those issues, but we will keep on raising them with them.
May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on taking important steps towards dealing with this vile problem? Does he agree that it may be necessary to amend the Geneva convention to deal with these problems, and will he look at what can be done through the convention?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. So far, we have agreed among the G8 nations and the 137 nations that have now signed the declaration that I put forward that crimes of sexual violence in conflict are grave breaches of the Geneva conventions and their first protocol. That does not require us to change the Geneva conventions, but it does require us to get the whole world to recognise that those crimes are breaches of the Geneva conventions in any case and should be part of the rules of warfare that the whole world should accept for the future.