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'Sexual Violence Is Not Something That Can Be Used As A Weapon Of War', Williamson Says

Gavin Williamson has launched a crusade to stop women, children and men being used as weapons of war in conflicts.

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson announced that the UK will be opening a Centre of Excellence for Human Security.

The Ministry of Defence has allocated £2 million a year to run courses in training troops from around the world to recognise the complexities of gender in conflict.

The training will focus on areas such as women and children in armed conflict, human trafficking and sexual exploitation.

Speaking just after an exercise involving 4 SCOTS on Salisbury Plain, which showed how civilians were protected in a conflict zone, Mr Williamson said that he hopes the new investment will "prevent such heinous crime seen so often in the past".

"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," he said.

"Make everyone understand that sexual violence is not something that can be used as a weapon of war."

"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.

“This new Centre of Excellence will build on the amazing work already being done by the UK, from our Human Security courses launched last year to the training we provide peacekeepers on preventing and responding to sexual violence in conflict."

HUMAN SECURITY DEMONSTRATION BY 4 SCOTS

The exercise further showed how personnel deal with difficult situations when civilians, including children, are in harm’s way through a range of different scenarios.

One of the scenarios showed how the team benefit by having a female on the ground.

Corporal Charlotte Warren from 1 Royal Military Police1, explained:

"Having a female there means if you have got female captured persons, you've got a female who's able to search them.

"Although men would be able to, if you had no other option available, it's better, it's more sensitive," she added.

Cpl Warren was the only female during the exercise to search the 'captured female' to highlight the sensitivity.

They also displayed the use of armoured vehicles and AH-64 Apache Attack Helicopters from the Army Air Corps navigating through pressured situations.

It is estimated that the Centre of Excellence will cost around £2 million a year and will be funded from a new Human Security budget.

Lieutenant Colonel Rachel Grimes, who served nine months in the Democratic Republic of Congo, said British personnel need to be taught how to react and deal with these issues so the skills can be passed on to other nations:

 "It is about getting people to think more broadly about security, not just someone shooting at them."

Both the MOD and Gavin Williamson hope this campaign will send out a clear message that the use of sexual violence in conflict zones is something that isn't going to be tolerated.

Defence Secretary South Sudan Women Centre MOD

When asked by a reporter whether Mr Williamson was hoping the centre and the issue to be his legacy, he replied saying:

"If this is something I can be remembered for, I'd love to be remembered for it.

"It is far too easy when you're involved with the armed forces to talk about tanks, ships and airplanes... but the reason we are involved in conflicts is to protect people and to protect those most vulnerable."

There were some questions raised about Britain’s defence ties with Brunei, which recently announced new Islamic criminal laws punishing gay sex by stoning offenders to death.

He said it was "something that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are taking up immediately with Brunei".

"It is not something that, obviously, as Britain, we want to see and that's why they're taking those discussions to the very highest level."

The Ministry of Defence announced that the UK was the first military in the world to have a dedicated policy on human rights.