Background Briefing on Secretary Kerry's Trip to London

Special Briefing
Senior State Department Officials
Via Teleconference
Washington, DC
June 12, 2014

MODERATOR: Good morning, everybody, thank you for joining us. This call is to preview Secretary Kerry’s trip to London tomorrow. We have on the call with us [Senior State Department Official One]. We also have [Senior State Department Official Two]. This call is on background for attribution to Senior State Department Official One and Senior State Department Official Two. And finally, I’ll just note that [Senior State Department Officials] are at the conference and have a very tight schedule, so we’ll let them run through the events and then hopefully we’ll have time for a few questions.

Let me turn it over first to you, [Senior State Department Official One].

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Thank you very much, [Moderator], and hello, everyone.

This is my first day here at the conference. We have had a tremendously exciting morning session. As you know, it’s the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict conference. Yesterday was the experts day, and the majority of our 30-plus strong delegation, which includes people working on women’s issues, criminal justice, development, refugee issues, disability rights, peacekeeping, et cetera, were participants and panels who were leading discussions with over a hundred participants from other countries and a variety of other activists and actors in the ways that we both should understand the crime of sexual violence and the way we should move toward – in conflict – and the way we should move toward addressing it.

The Secretary is coming tomorrow, as you know, because we want to emphasize the United States view of this issue. We’ve long been a leading actor in supporting the prevention of and accountability for sexual violence in conflict. But I think the reason that the Secretary’s involvement is so important is because he can speak uniquely to a point that was also made by Foreign Secretary Hague that gender-based violence isn’t just an abhorrent abuse of human rights; it’s an issue of national security and it fuels conflict, it forces refugee flows, it disrupts families and economic development, it’s linked to cyclical violence and other human rights abuses. And I think the sentence that sums it up for me that I delivered in my remarks today is that failing to address impunity for one of the world’s worst crimes underwrites conflict and instability for years. And so from my vantage point on civilian security, thinking about cycles of instability, that clear linkage is something that’s just very compelling.

So one of the things that’s really exciting is the ability to link audiences that work on this issue in peace time and in humanitarian crises with this growing recognition of there’s – of a war crime and a crime against humanity. And the norm development – we’ve got the laws that the norm, the awareness of this is a problem. The exposing of this long invisible crime is really a powerful motivating force. We’re hearing multimedia presentations. We’re seeing testimony from survivors. It’s very energizing, and I think the focus of the conversation has really been, “Okay. We get it. Now what are we going to do?” And really thinking about seeking accountability and the specific measures there, ending impunity, all kinds of services for survivors and engaging women in peacemaking. And so that’s just a tremendously energizing agenda to work on.

And I will now turn the sort of floor over to [Senior State Department Official Two] to talk in more specific terms about that work.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Thank you very much, [Senior State Department Official One]. Good afternoon, everybody. As [Senior State Department Official One] mentioned, we have a very strong U.S. delegation here. We’ll be joined by Secretary Kerry tomorrow. I think the broad representation speaks to the emphasis in the United States that we place on preventing and responding to sexual violence in conflict, and also to gender-based violence globally. We believe that addressing this problem is absolutely essential to ensuring lasting peace, reconciliation, and preventing future conflict.

Time and again, we have seen women are disproportionately affected by sexual violence in conflict, but women are also essential agents of peace, stability, and prosperity in their communities, which is really why the United States has made women’s issues central to our effort to end impunity, to advance accountability, to support survivors and strengthen them with leadership roles and advancing peace.

I think you probably know that the purpose here is the international community is really standing together and saying that sexual violence is not inevitable in conflict; really, enough is enough, and I think that message has been delivered loud and clear here, and it’s really the purpose of the conference. As [Senior State Department Official One] said, sexual violence in conflict is destabilizing, it fuels conflict, and the stories are absolutely horrific, and the violence is so traumatizing to women and the community. In the fall at the UN General Assembly, 140 countries signed the declaration opposing this. And this conference is really the next step, and individual countries are taking action.

The UK is promoting protocols for evidence collection. The United States is taking several actions here, which the Secretary will outline in his remarks tomorrow. I’m going to just give you a preview on the points that the United States is (inaudible), or the points that he’ll raise tomorrow.

First, the United States is launching a new accountability initiative which aims to partner with governments affected by conflict to develop specialized mechanisms, prosecute sexual violence. We’ve got some of these going on already. We’re going to increase and enhance this effort. The form of violence (inaudible) committed responses for survivors, and this initiative supports access to justice, which we think is an important part of reaffirming the rule of law. We’ve got some of these efforts going on now in the DRC – mobile courts and other efforts like those to really focus accountability in the these countries.

The second is the United States will increase funding for Safe from the Start for international organization partners to build on an initial commitment of $10 million that we made. The Secretary announced that in September 2013. We will now commit new funds to NGOs to develop innovative programs to prevent and respond to gender-based violence and refugee emergencies.

The third is to ensure governments have the tools they need to address sexual violence. The United States is committing an additional $2.5 million to expand our partnership. Something called Together For Girls initiative with countries developing data to fuel their responses to end sexual violence against children, especially girls.

Fourth, we will announce a doubling of the original commitment to the Gender-Based Violence Emergency Response and Protection Initiative, which is led by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, to a total of $1 million. This fund provides emergency financial assistance to individuals around the world, including in conflict settings, who have either endured violence or are facing an immediate and severe threat.

Finally, at the same time the Secretary is challenging other governments to issue visa bans to those responsible for crimes against humanity and war crimes, including those involving sexual violence. These individuals deserve no safe harbor. Secretary Kerry announced a U.S. visa ban on this crime in February 2014, and so tomorrow he will be encouraging other countries to do the same thing.

So those are the steps the United States is taking. And as I said, that really the purpose here is to make it clear that there are steps that the international community can take, and that’s the purpose of the conference. So thank you all very much, and we’re happy to take your questions.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Operator, we can turn it to questions. Let me just add one thing. We – there is a possibility the Secretary will have a couple of additional bilateral meetings before we depart London. Those are still coming together, so we’ll provide all of you with a list and more details on that before we depart this evening.

Okay. With that, let’s take some questions.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, if you wish to ask a question please press * then 1 on your touchtone phone. You will hear a tone indicating you’ve been placed in queue. And you may remove yourself from queue at any time by pressing the # key. Once again, if you do have a question please press * then 1.

And our first question comes from the line of Anne Gearan with Washington Post. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. Thank you all very much for doing the call. Can you just address it in a little bit more specificity what you think the things you just outlined that Secretary Kerry will be announcing could actually do in terms of practical problems? I mean, you mentioned DRC, for one. I mean, what kinds of things is the United States proposing as solutions for that conflict in particular? Maybe there are some others that have some specific practical applications you could talk about. Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Well, I think the DRC is an example of a place where we have done some work with – the example I raised earlier – the mobile court. It’s a place where, obviously, there are tremendous challenges. One of the things that we do with the mobile courts is it’s an opportunity for – the way those work is that we support efforts where we go into a community and help train judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and trials can take place in communities. So places where sexual violence has occurred, the communities can actually see justice being served in those communities.

And it really serves two purposes. One is, in communities, one of the huge challenges is a lot of these actions take place where people feel that they can act with complete impunity, and people who suffer the violence feel like that justice will never be served. So they can see justice being served, which is one really important piece. And the second is we see it is as an opportunity to help build up the judicial sectors in these communities and I think that that can be tremendously important. And one of the real goals that we have is just to try to help these countries ultimately help themselves. And so mobile courts are one example of these alternative mechanisms. They’re not – certainly not the only one, but they’re ways that we think we can help the country sort of deal with these issues themselves in the long run. Obviously they need a lot of support to do that, but this is a way we think we can help them.

QUESTION: Thank you.

OPERATOR: And once again, if you do have a question please press * then 1.

MODERATOR: All right.

OPERATOR: We do have a question from the line of Lara Jakes --

QUESTION: Okay. Great.

OPERATOR: -- with Associated Press. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. You all talked a lot about violence against women. I was just wondering if you had seen much evidence of an uptick of men or boys being victims of sexual assaults in warzones as well.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I think one of the central problems with this issue is data, and that’s something that’s come up in a variety of different plenary sessions. The UK is very interested in a data-based model for tracking and documenting and then driving response to the problem. We have – we do not have, to the best of my knowledge, clarity on this question of gender trajectories overall, but it’s, I think, very much on the minds of those who wish to identify service support, because obviously the stigma against sexual violence against men – it comes in very different forms, and maybe even harder to access the treatment (inaudible) and support services will need to be different. So getting a better handle on that problem will be an important aspect of the roadmap moving forward.

QUESTION: Thank you.

OPERATOR: And currently there are no further questions. Please continue.

MODERATOR: Great. Well, thank you everybody for joining the call. We’ll of course pass on a transcript, and you will of course see both of these [Senior State Department Officials] at the conference tomorrow. We’ll see you later today.