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Williamson launches crusade to stop civilians being used as weapons of war

The Defence Secretary announced the creation of a centre of excellence for human security.

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson during a visit to Salisbury Plains Training Area (Steve Parsons/PA)
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson during a visit to Salisbury Plains Training Area (Steve Parsons/PA)

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said he has launched a crusade to stop women, children and men being used as weapons of war in conflicts across the world.

It comes as he announced the creation of a centre of excellence for human security, which will deliver training for military personnel on areas such as women, children and armed conflict, human trafficking and sexual exploitation.

Mr Williamson confirmed the move on Salisbury Plain after watching troops from 4 Scots, armoured vehicles and Apache attack helicopters carry out an exercise which showed how civilians were protected in a conflict zone.

With £2 million a year set to be ploughed into the new centre, with its location yet to be decided, Mr Williamson said on Thursday he hopes it will “prevent such heinous crime seen so often in the past”.

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Members of 4 Scots showed their infantry skills in front of Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson (Steve Parsons/PA)

“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.”

He added that rape and kidnapping were being used systematically as a tactic to spread terror, particularly in places like Iraq and Nigeria, adding it was “imperative we act to stop this”.

The Ministry of Defence said the UK was the first military in the world to have a dedicated policy on human security – launched in January – with Mr Williamson highlighting how he is “proud” Britain’s armed forces are leading the way.

He added that all parts of the military were now duty bound to understand the dangers to men, women and children in conflict.

Lieutenant Colonel Rachel Grimes 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.

She said human security was a relatively new concept, but it meant that soldiers were being taught to look out for children in conflict, rape survivors – both male and female – as well as the protection of civilians.

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Three women are led to safety during the demonstration in Copehill Down Village (Steve Parsons/PA)

Spending nine-and-a-half months in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) herself, she said: “It is about getting people to think more broadly about security, not just someone shooting at them.”

The Defence Secretary said he remembers the reports of the abduction of the schoolgirls in Chibok, Nigeria, and realised as a politician “you want to do something to make a difference, make a change” and to reduce the chance of it happening again.

“If we are not the ones pushing on this, if we are not the ones saying it has got to end – these are the ways of doing it – who else is going to?” he told reporters.

Asked if he wants the centre and the issue to be his legacy, Mr Williamson added: “If this is something I can be remembered for, I’d love to be remembered for it.”

He added: “It is far too easy when you’re involved with the armed forces to talk about tanks, ships and aeroplanes… but the reason we are involved in conflicts is to protect people and to protect those most vulnerable.”

The MoD said military human security advisers have deployed to the DRC on UN peacekeeping missions since 2014, and have provided training for peacekeepers in Kenya, Malawi and Nigeria on preventing and responding to sexual violence in conflict.

But as Mr Williamson championed human rights, there were questions over the defence-related ties between Britain and Brunei – which recently announced new Islamic criminal laws punishing gay sex by stoning offenders to death.

Asked about the close relationship and the potential risk of hypocrisy in the wake of his announcement and their new law, he said it is “something that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are taking up immediately with Brunei”.

He added: “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.”

PA

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