Women stand around a fire during march against gender-based violence marking International Women’s Day, in Mexico City, on March 8, 2023.
Aurea del Rosario—AP

Verified cases of conflict-related sexual violence rose by a staggering 50% last year. This is the conclusion of the U.N. Secretary General’s annual report, which warns that this stark figure may only be a fraction of the full picture globally.

This type of violence is typically used as a tactic of war with the aim of terrifying opponents, forcing women out of public life, recruiting fighters, or gaining control over territory. It includes rape, gang rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, and forced marriage, and is carried out by militias, terrorist organizations, and national armed forces. These are not sexual acts; they are forms of torture. And they are occurring in more than 20 different conflict zones, from Afghanistan to Ukraine, Colombia to Iraq, and the Democratic Republic of Congo to Sudan. This year’s report has also, for the first time, a dedicated section on Israel and the Occupied Palestinian territories.

The sharp increase in cases is shocking but unsurprising. There is a direct link between conflict, human displacement, and rape. Two things happen—almost without exception—when conflict erupts: civilians are forced to leave their homes, and innocent women and girls, as well as men and boys, are deliberately targeted with sexual violence. The number of people displaced across borders or within their own countries is at the highest level ever recorded, meaning that unprecedented numbers of people live with heightened vulnerability to these crimes.

These facts matter because they depict the human cost of rising conflict and insecurity in terms beyond what most of us can fathom. The cases documented last year included victims as young as three years old, and as old as 70. Many suffered “extreme physical violence” and “lethal injury,” the U.N. report said, including as a result of “the insertion of objects into the bodies of victims.” The trail of bodies and lives broken by sexual violence exposes the hollowness of collective promises to defend human rights and the weakness of the international system.

Read More: 4 Steps America Must Take To Help End Sexual Violence

When we both first began working with displaced people and victims of conflict, sexual violence was the hidden crime. Women we met would talk about their husbands and their children and the pain they were suffering. Only much later would the conversation turn to what they themselves had endured. Now, the painful truth is obvious to anyone who will pay attention. But the will to prevent grave violations of human rights is still lacking. In some cases, as in Afghanistan since the return of the Taliban, the international community has sent a message that it has turned away from the abuse of women.

Over a decade ago, 156 countries endorsed a “Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict,” setting the long-term goal of ending the use of rape and other forms of sexual violence as weapons of war. Yet violence has only worsened since. They promised to promote women’s participation in peace negotiations, yet no women were included in negotiating teams for conflicts in Myanmar, Sudan, or Yemen, and the involvement of female negotiators is declining overall. They pledged to ensure that sexual violence prevention and response efforts were prioritized and adequately funded. But less than 0.2% of global aid funding went to gender-based violence programs in 2022.

There have been some steps that point to the possibility of progress. The Special Criminal Court in the Central African Republic has extended its proceedings until 2028 to address grave crimes stemming from past conflicts. Colombia has launched a new national case to investigate sexual- and gender-based violence in the context of the country’s conflict. Iraq has approved funding to provide reparations to Yazidi survivors of sexual violence committed by Islamic State. Ukraine has started an interim reparation program for survivors of sexual violence. Six brave Rohingya survivors recently traveled from Cox’s Bazar refugee camp in Bangladesh to address the Argentinian court currently investigating allegations of genocide and crimes against humanity in Myanmar, including rape. Yet these positive examples are overshadowed by the new conflicts breaking out each year and broken promises.

Condemnation of these crimes is not enough. Genuine political will and concrete action are needed. It is high time to increase the access to holistic care, to justice and reparation for survivors, and accountability of perpetrators and states. Stronger systems should be in place to prevent these crimes where possible and hold perpetrators accountable when they are committed, including a permanent international body able to assist in the gathering and preserving of evidence, in support of national prosecutors, NGOs, and the U.N. There should be more timely support to survivors to enable them to rebuild their lives. All victims should be valued equally, no matter where they live or who they are, and they should play a greater role in shaping the international response.

Human displacement and mass sexual violence are not inevitable. They are the consequences of deliberate choices: aggressive actions on the one hand, and a collective failure to uphold international law on the other. It is in our power to reverse this trend urgently, and the very least victims of sexual violence deserve is that we try.

Angelina Jolie is a TIME contributing editor and an Academy Award-winning actor and humanitarian.

Dr. Denis Mukwege is founder and president at the Panzi Hospital and Foundation, and a 2018 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.

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