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White House unveils new initiatives to combat war-related sexual violence

Event hosted by Vice President Kamala Harris on International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict

By Chris Benson & Allen Cone
Vice President Kamala Harris delivers remarks on conflict-related sexual violence during an event at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington on Monday. Photo by Rod Lamkey /UPI
1 of 3 | Vice President Kamala Harris delivers remarks on conflict-related sexual violence during an event at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington on Monday. Photo by Rod Lamkey /UPI | License Photo

June 17 (UPI) -- Vice President Kamala Harris on Monday unveiled new measures aimed at addressing sexual violence in armed military conflicts, including in the Middle East, to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict.

"it is the responsibility of all of us governments, international organizations, civil society, and individual citizens to actively confront conflict-related sexual violence and to work to rid our world of this heinous crime," Harris said during an event at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. "And to do what is necessary to hold perpetrators accountable."

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The initiative also will increase women's leadership through the Women, Peace and Security Incentive Fund, among others.

"I especially thank the survivors and advocates that are with us today," Harris said. "You are fearless advocates in the fight for justice, and you remind us of the resilience of survivors."

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Harris, along with sexual violence survivors and experts on the topic, "condemned" conflict-related sexual violence and called for the international community to join the United States in advancing justice and accountability for this crime," a White House news release stated.

At the event was Amit Soussana, who was abducted by Hamas from her home in Israel on Oct. 7 and released in March.

Soussana describes her ordeal in Sheryl Sandberg's documentary film Screams Before Silence. The event included a partial screening of the film.

Harris said "women's bodies were found naked to the waist down, hands tied behind their back and shot in the head."

Harris said that released hostages are revealing the sexual violence they endured in captivity.

"These testimonies, I fear, will only increase as more hostages are released," she said. "We cannot look away, and we will not be silent. My heart breaks for all these survivors and their families."

At Monday's event, the United States' first female vice president launched the Dignity in Documentation Initiative.

The White House says the initiative will focus efforts on investigating and documenting conflict-related sexual violence in line with the Murad Code, which is named for Nobel Laureate and survivor Nadia Murad.

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Described as a "holistic program," it will be supported by a $10 million investment from the State Department and will "support justice for survivors by promoting accountability for crimes punishable under international law."

The United Nations General Assembly on June 19, 2015, proclaimed June 19 of each year the "International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict" to raise awareness of "the need to put an end to conflict-related sexual violence," and to honor the victims and survivors of sexual violence around the globe, according to the United Nations.

This year's International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict will focus on healthcare.

The White House cites President Joe Biden's 2022 memorandum on promoting accountability for conflict-related sexual violence, which states that it is U.S. policy "to promote accountability for perpetrators of acts of" conflict-related sexual violence "through relevant existing sanctions authorities, where applicable, and to ensure that these authorities are used to the fullest extent possible to target perpetrators of acts of CRSV and their enablers."

Harris outlined a series of administration actions that will be taken consistent with Biden's 2022 memo, including: incorporating gender-based violence prevention into humanitarian responses; supporting survivors of sexual violence in Russia's ongoing war with Ukraine; "expanding atrocity prevention"; increasing women's leadership roles in Sri Lanka and Sudan; supporting other U.N efforts and a series of sanctions on Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, South Sudan, Haiti, Iraq and Syria.

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