Here's a fact to chill your bones. Some 50,000 rapes were committed during the Bosnian war of the 1990s. To date, only 30 people have been convicted.
It's a shockingly low statistic, but all too familiar from conflicts across the globe. Everyone agrees that such grotesque numbers are unacceptable. But now, it looks like Britain is finally putting its money where its mouth is – and is calling on others to join.
Last week the UK's Foreign Office announced an anti-rape task force, dedicated to investigating the crime of rape in war zones. If it works, it could be a big step forward for victims who have been forgotten for far too long – and perhaps it will act as a deterrent, too, protecting other potential victims.
Not just 'collateral'
The appallingly low conviction rate for rape in Bosnia is all the more shaming because the atrocities of those dark years are so well documented. The conflict was the focus of intense media interest at the time, and painstaking forensic work was done afterwards to bring perpetrators to justice.
That can't be said for the scores of other war zones where rapes of men, women and children have been carried out – from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Sierra Leone to Sri Lanka.
Years of struggle to bring war criminals to justice are starting to yield some high-profile results. (Exhibit one: the recent landmark conviction of former Liberian president Charles Taylor for "aiding and abetting" crimes in Sierra Leone.) But the international justice system has targeted symbolic "big men". Rape as a crime of war gets overlooked – because, as a UK Foreign Office spokesperson put it: "there are too many places where rape is not even seen as a crime, where it's just seen as collateral".
An unacceptable reality
This unacceptable reality is what the UK and partners are now trying to change. The plan's thin on specifics: all we know is that a team of experts – including police, psychologists, doctors and lawyers – will be trained to deploy at short notice to conflict-hit areas. Their job will be to gather evidence, but also to train local professionals. The aims are to educate people about reporting and investigating rape, to secure more convictions and, hopefully, to create a deterrent.
It's not clear how much money the team will get – it comes out of a £200m "conflict pool". Certainly, for the project to work, the UK needs to persuade other governments, charities and agencies to come on board. The G8 and Nordic countries, as well as a number of leading charities, have given encouraging signals. But too often promises of aid get sidelined, or bogged down indefinitely in official processes.
All that said, it's a step in the right direction. Our media and politics focus so much on what we can't do: how international politics stops us acting on Syria, how complicated and fraught any intervention would be. Here's a refreshingly clear cut case of the right thing to do – one that leaders and people can get behind. Now, the challenge is to get others to seize this opportunity.