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Harnessing the Power of Women Foreign Ministers

Montreal Summit Provides Important Platform to Support Global Justice

 Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland meets High Representative of the European Union (EU) for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Council Federica Mogherini during the EU-Canada joint ministerial committee meeting at the European Council in Brussels, Belgium, November, 2017. © 2017 Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

In a first-of-its-kind summit, the world’s female foreign ministers will meet in Montreal today and tomorrow to discuss a range of global challenges, from advancing peace and security to eliminating violence against women and girls in conflict and post-conflict settings.

The meeting, jointly hosted by Canada’s foreign affairs minister, Chrystia Freeland, and her European Union counterpart, Federica Mogherini, comes at a critical time globally. Despite great strides in human rights protections, women and girls remain targets of egregious rights violations for which those responsible are rarely held to account.

Sexual violence against women and girls as war crimes and crimes against humanity remains pervasive. In Myanmar in late 2017, security forces raped and sexually assaulted thousands of Rohingya women and girls. Nearly every sexual assault described to Human Rights Watch by survivors involved a gang rape. But for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to prosecute sexual and gender-based crimes, as well as the full range of grave crimes committed in Myanmar, the United Nations Security Council needs to refer the situation in Myanmar to the ICC.  The foreign ministers at the summit should call on the council to do just that.

Rohingya refugees line up at an aid relief distribution center at the Balukhali refugee camp near Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, August 12, 2018. © 2018 Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images

While the ICC’s current prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, has made prosecuting sexual and gender-based crimes a priority, progress so far has been limited. The summit provides a crucial opportunity for foreign ministers to boldly reaffirm their government’s commitment to justice and accountability for these grave crimes.

The foreign ministers should call for greater support to the ICC and other accountability mechanisms. Holding abusers to account for their crimes will deter further atrocities, help create the conditions for durable peace, and ultimately advance the lives of women and girls around the world.

Throughout history, women have often been excluded from conflict prevention and resolution efforts, even though the participation of women can lead to a more stable peace. This group of women foreign ministers have a platform and opportunity in Montreal today to rewrite this narrative.

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