UK foreign secretary James Cleverly has brought together representatives of around 70 countries, including Bangladesh, to drive forward urgent action to tackle the scourge of sexual violence in conflict.

The foreign secretary Monday opened an international conference in London. The two-day event that will end Tuesday put survivors of sexual violence in conflict at the centre of the global response.

Cleverly said the threat of rape and sexual violence as a weapon of war, or as part of its aftermath, should bring immediate international condemnation, and swift action to deter those attacks before they occur.

“Today, we stand in solidarity with survivors, determined to bring justice,” he added. “I want to send an unequivocal message to those who order, allow or perpetrate sexual violence against women and girls that “it isn’t combat; it isn’t strength; it is cowardice.”

International survivors, government ministers and representatives of NGOs are also at the conference to share what they have learned and agree on a united response to prevent atrocities from taking place in future.

Fazilatun Nessa Indira, state minister for women and children affairs, Md Hasanuzzaman Kallol, secretary of the ministry, and Saida Muna Tasneem, Bangladesh high commissioner to the UK, are representing Bangladesh.

The delegation also includes human rights activists Shireen Huq and Rani Yan Yan; lawyers Raziya Sultana and Sara Hussain; academic Bina D’Costa and artist Leesa Gazi.

This week’s conference marks 10 years of the UK government’s landmark Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative (PSVI).

The UK has been at the vanguard of efforts to combat conflict-related sexual violence for the past decade, ever since former foreign secretary William Hague and Angelina Jolie jointly launched PSVI in 2012.

Since then, the UK has supported nearly 100 projects across 29 countries – from safe shelters in Bosnia, to judicial support in Iraq and Colombia, and training for peacekeepers in East Africa.

New evidence has shown that an estimated 20 to 30 per cent of women and girls in conflict-affected settings experience sexual violence.