UK Ambassador Opens on Sexual Violence Prevention in Conflict

Opening remarks by British Ambassador to the Holy See Christopher Trott.

Your Excellencies, Reverend Fathers and Sisters, Colleagues, welcome and thank you for being with us here and online.

I would like to thank in particular Maria Lía Zervino, President General of the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organisations, Dr Paolo Ruffini and Sr Bernadette Reis at the Dicastery for Communications of the Holy See for their support in making this event possible, and the shared commitment to raise awareness of conflict-related sexual violence, which is still – in the words of Pope Francis – “a general, and widespread, reality everywhere.”

During my career, I myself have witnessed first-hand the devastating impact of this heinous act. From my first posting in Myanmar to my most recent ones in South Sudan and in the Solomon Islands. Just a few places where conflict-related sexual violence destroys lives, and where the trauma has had deep and long-lasting effects on the survivors, but also their families and communities.

But conflict-related sexual violence is not only morally abhorrent. It is an abuse of human rights. And, when perpetrated in the context of armed conflict, it is a serious violation of international humanitarian law and a war crime.

Tragically, in Ukraine, we are now seeing sexual violence committed by the occupying Russian forces. Ukraine is a rallying call to the international community, and to every one of us. I’m proud that my Government has deployed specialist war crimes and conflict-related sexual violence experts to the region, and that it is working with international partners to refer the situation in Ukraine to the International Criminal Court. Russia’s barbaric acts must be investigated and those responsible held to account.

The issue

Conflict-related sexual violence exists far beyond Ukraine. It is sadly widespread in situations of conflict around the world.

Typically, conflict-related sexual violence is a type of gender-based violence that is grounded in harmful social norms that underpin gender inequality, patriarchal institutions, men and boys’ violence against women and girls, and violations of women’s rights. At the same time it is also frequently used against males, especially boys.

It has both short- and long-term effects on survivors, children born of sexual violence, and communities. Physical health impacts range from the consequences of immediate injuries to longer-term disabilities. Mental health impacts for survivors vary, including but not limited to anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorders. And, while dealing with these traumas, survivors often find themselves isolated, without the support they need to get back on their feet. Sadly, the stigma associated with being a survivor of conflict-related sexual violence can include rejection by family and exclusion from community.

More generally, conflict-related sexual violence can undermine poverty reduction, gender equality, crisis resilience and recovery, and conflict prevention and resolution.

The UK’s role

Preventing sexual violence in conflict remains a key priority for my Government. The international conference held in London last November mobilised the international community, survivors, civil society, multilateral partners and faith leaders to take global action.

At that conference, the UK launched an ambitious strategy to use our diplomatic, development and defence levers to tackle this appalling crime, including by addressing the root causes, such as harmful gender norms. We pledged to strengthen justice for survivors, and to support them and their children born of sexual violence in conflict. This strategy is backed by up to £12.5m (Euro 14.8m) of new funding over the next three years, bringing our total funding since 2012 to £60m (Euro 68m), and £3.45m (Euro 3.9m) of new funding on gender-based violence in Ukraine and the nearby region.

The London conference also galvanised further international action, with 53 states and the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict endorsing a new Political Declaration and 40 making national commitments to help stamp out this heinous crime. The UK has since launched an International Alliance to bring together states, civil society and survivors to maintain momentum and to act as a key forum for coordination, sharing best practice and hearing from survivors.

The London conference also saw the launch of the ‘Murad Code’, which is named after Nadia Murad, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and herself a Yazidi survivor of sexual violence used by Daesh in Iraq. The Murad Code sets out how to collect information from survivors safely and effectively. Representatives of civil society including faith actors on the ground and survivors were involved in the consultation process of the Murad Code. The code has also been translated into Ukrainian to support the response in Ukraine.

Faith actors

I would like to end by highlighting the crucial role faith leaders can play, including but of course not limited to Catholic leaders. Firstly, they can dismantle the harmful misinterpretations of religious texts used to justify sexual violence in conflict. Second, they, more than politicians, can speak to people’s consciences in demanding an end to conflict-related sexual violence, as well as to the stigma too often faced by survivors and their children. So Pope Francis’ statements condemning conflict-related sexual violence during his recent visit to the DRC as he heard harrowing tales from survivors are incredibly powerful.

Another important example is the Declaration of Humanity, which was launched in 2020 by Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, the Prime Minister’s Special Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict, with significant endorsement from over 50 high-profile faith and belief leaders. In the declaration, faith leaders from across the faiths called for an end to sexual violence in conflict and denounced the stigma too often faced by survivors. Their declaration is the first of its kind and unites multiple faiths to work within their communities to prevent these horrific acts.

Since 2020, support for the Declaration has continued to grow in countries with a high prevalence of conflict-related sexual violence.

To date, it has been signed by over 200 faith leaders, along with around 450 civil society actors and community leaders. Including the Catholic networks, such as the Missionaries of Africa and Cardinal Vincent Nichols, President of the Bishops Conference of England and Wales. We continue to encourage faith leaders to sign the Declaration and put it into action within their communities, and we hope that more Catholic Church’s leaders will commit and spread the Declaration’s messages.


Addressing conflict-related sexual violence has become even more complex at a time of intersecting crises and inequalities, as shown by the Covid pandemic and the war in Ukraine. The international community must stand together to prevent and respond in an effective and co-ordinated manner.

Women and girls must be protected in all situations, but especially in conflict zones. I look forward to hearing the experience of the Catholic networks on the ground in assisting survivors in their rehabilitation journey and in breaking the stigma. And to hearing testimonies from survivors today.

I hope that today’s event will also be an opportunity to raise awareness on what more needs to be done to eliminate this crime, and to illuminate how we can work together better to strengthen action. Including the important role of the media (and I am glad to see also journalists attending the event). And importantly, how do we work together to ensure survivors always remain at the centre.

I look forward to being inspired.

Thank you

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