The G8 nations agreed Thursday to a British plan to go after those who rape in war zones, hoping to end this atrocity as a weapon in conflicts. Perhaps this big-power move will mark a historic shift in ending a global problem.
Moral activists often look back in history for role models of those who have changed world thinking about a specific type of atrocity. For British Foreign Secretary William Hague, who has now achieved some success against the use of rape as a weapon of war, the model is William Wilberforce. He was the 19th-century campaigner who challenged the assumption that the global slave trade was a permanent fixture of human existence.
A better model for Mr. Hague might be Henry Dunant. As the founder of the Red Cross, he persuaded the great powers to set up rules for conduct during war. On Thursday, Hague himself was able to persuade the Group of Eight, whose members are the most powerful nations in the world, that the time has come to set up methods to deter and investigate wartime sexual atrocities.
In the past few years, the United Nations Security Council and other world bodies have tried to tackle this abuse in conflict zones, such as in Congo, Colombia, and South Sudan. Little has been done to alter the behavior of rebels and troops who often rape women and children with impunity. Now the British foreign secretary has won over the United States, France, Canada, Japan, Germany, Russia, and Italy to take specific steps.