BRITAIN will lead a “crusade” to end the barbaric use of rape and kidnap as weapons of war, Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson yesterday announced.
He made the pledge after unveiling plans for a £2m “centre of excellence” to champion training and research to combat the sickening tactics.
Subhuman warlords and bloodthirsty terror leaders have used systematic sexual violence, kidnap and the use of child soldiers across the globe to wield control.
But Top Brass are fighting back, in January the UK military became the first in the world to create a policy to protect innocents caught up in brutal conflict.
It means every soldier, sailor and airman is “duty bound” to understand the risks to vulnerable women, men and children, living in warzones.
Meanwhile new training and the promise of a centre of excellence – hoped to be opened by the end of the year – will act as a hub for training and research.
Williamson made the announcement after travelling to Salisbury Plain to witness 4 Scots soldiers, backed by an Apache chopper and armoured trucks, conduct a training scenario where they liberated female captives from a terror group.
He said: “We’re here to underline our commitment to stopping the systematic violation of women, men, boys and girls being used as weapons of war. The UK takes this subject incredibly seriously. The nature of conflict is changing.
“We see in many parts of the world from Nigeria to Iraq, rape and kidnapping being used systematically as a tactic to spread terror. It’s imperative we act to stop this. In the long run we hope the centre will prevent such heinous crimes we’ve seen so often in the past from happening in the future.
“We have to see this as a crusade, our mission to change not just the attitudes of our allies but nations right across the world, make everyone understand that sexual violence is not something that can be used as a weapon of war.”
He added: “It’s got to be something Britain can champion. I do use the word crusade because if we’re not the ones who are pushing this then who else is going to?”
Insiders said rape is being used as a “cheap” weapon, which can devastate generations.
While child soldiers have been used by blood thirsty militias in Africa – to Iraq and Syria by now defeated ISIS. Meanwhile kidnap and human trafficking are becoming more widespread as warfare morphs.
This is a big step, this is what the Army’s been asking for.
Tim Graham, Royal Scots Dragoon Guards Captain
But it is hoped new training – and the £2m a year centre of excellence – will embed a new approach so soldiers don’t just defeat the enemy but know how to spot their horror tactics.
Williamson said British troops bring a “gold standard” to this type of work. He added: “In modern warfare there is no ‘front line’ and the sad reality is that innocent bystanders are in harm’s way in conflicts around the world. Protecting civilians from human rights violations is as much a military task as defeating the enemy.”
The first course to train so-called Human Security Advisors was conducted last year with two more planned for this year – teaching over 60 UK personnel the skills to combat sexual violence as a weapon of war.
That includes learning the gender dynamics in different conflict zones and how they are corrupted by enemy forces.
Captain Phoebe Todhunter, 32, of 77 Brigade, from Cumbria, who has received the training, said: “We always cared about this – but we are developing. We are going into different types of conflict – but now increasingly it is coming more to the front door of civilians.
“We’re in environments where there is no front line anymore. When we get this centre of excellent it will be great. This is something really important and something I’m proud to be part of.”
Royal Scots Dragoon Guards Captain Tim Graham, 29, worked in the Congo in 2017 and saw first-hand how rape and child soldiers were used.
Since 1994 it is estimated three million women have been raped and 750,000 men there, and in 2008 it was branded the “rape capital of the world.”
He said: “Between 200 and 700 people per day were being subjected to sexual violence – the statistics are just staggering. This is a big step, this is what the Army’s been asking for.”
But Williamson also had to defend Britain’s close relationship with nations with shocking human rights laws.
This month Brunei – where British forces have a training base – announced homosexuality would be punished with the death penalty.
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Williamson said: “This is something that the FCO is taking up immediately with Brunei.
“It’s not something obviously as Britain that we would want to see and that’s why they are taking those discussions to the very highest levels.
“We’ll always be the nation raising those issues with every country whether they are countries we are involved in militarily or not involved in militarily.”
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