The first-recorded international war crimes trial – for “conduct unbecoming a knight” – took place in 1474. The charge included rape, and the penalty was death. Yet it was just last month–over 600 years later – that the United Nations Security Council explicitly recognized war-time rape as a security issue that warrants a security response.
Thus we are meeting at a historically optimistic moment. A moment when mass rape has, at last, graduated from a humanitarian issue to a foreign policy priority. To paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “the arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice”. And that’s what I would like to outline today: how the international community in general – and women in particular – have helped bend history. How we have navigated the long arc from advocacy to action, and where it leads us now. Because now more than ever – with women increasingly the targets of war – it is essential to take stock of the milestones and roadblocks we’ve faced, and to chart a course for the future.