UK

Sophie urges world to stand ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with those raped during war

The Duchess of Edinburgh is a champion of the UK’s Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative, and the Women, Peace and Security Agenda.

The Duchess of Edinburgh
The Duchess of Edinburgh The Duchess of Edinburgh (Aaron Chown/PA)

The Duchess of Edinburgh has urged nations to stand “shoulder to shoulder” with those raped during conflicts and to secure for them “justice and holistic redress”.

Sophie denounced rape as “pure evil” and said it was a “tactic of war” and “not just an unfortunate casualty”, during a video address at a conference on conflict-related sexual violence.

The event was held in Ukraine where the duchess said the Office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine had recorded more than 120,000 incidents of alleged war crimes committed during the conflict with Russia.

In her video address the duchess said: “Survivors here and around the world have spoken out so bravely about their experiences.

“They are the most powerful advocates who remind us all that we must not turn our backs on the horrors of this crime, we must never forget the survivors.

“Rather, we must stand shoulder to shoulder with all survivors to secure justice and holistic redress, and ensure that this crime isn’t an accepted part of conflict.

“Their rights and their voices must be at the heart of all our efforts to consign conflict-related sexual violence to the history books.”

Sophie spoke in her role as champion of the UK’s Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative, and the Women, Peace and Security Agenda.

The Countess of Wessex during a 2022 visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo to highlight sexual and gender based violence in conflict. Jane Barlow/PA
Royal visit to Democratic Republic of Congo The Countess of Wessex during a 2022 visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo to highlight sexual and gender based violence in conflict. Jane Barlow/PA (Jane Barlow/PA)

Her speech was made at the Restoration of the Conflict-Related Sexual Violence Survivors’ Rights Conference, attended by the First Lady of Ukraine, Olena Zelenska.

The duchess told delegates who included NGOs and survivors: “The devastation of conflict-related sexual violence, we know is not only confined to the survivors and the children born of rape, but is felt by the families as well as whole communities, which is why it is so effective as a tactic of warfare.

“Survivors experience long-lasting stigma which impacts their livelihoods and tears families apart.”

The duchess, who has travelled extensively raising awareness about the issue, described how “ingrained in my heart” the faces and accounts are of the many women who have shared the terrible and graphic accounts of their rape experiences.

Sophie went on to say: “Rape requires no training, no armoury, no financial backing, but is as devastating as bullets and bombs not only in the immediacy of the attacks but for the rest of the victims and their families’ lives.

“And let’s be clear it is illegal, in fact it is pure evil. Conflict-related sexual violence must end now.”