The UK is leading the way in taking on sexual violence in conflict
Our shared aim must be to place the stigma attached to sexual violence where it rightfully belongs – on the perpetrators, writes Lord Ahmad
The suffering caused by war is never confined to the battlefield. Behind the frontline, armed men use rape and other forms of sexual violence against defenceless women, children, and men.
The damage wrought upon whole communities persists long after the fighting ends. In countries previously convulsed by war many thousands of people live with the trauma of rape.
In nations where conflict still rages, armed groups continue to prey upon vulnerable populations. In the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo decades of unrest have imposed a terrible burden of suffering. Here, a small number of dedicated and courageous surgeons, including the Nobel Laureate Dr Denis Mukwege, strive to heal the wounds inflicted by these acts.
Six years ago the initiative to prevent sexual violence in armed conflict was launched. It was followed by the 2014 Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, where the UK told the world that it was #TimeToAct. Five years on from that summit, we will host an international conference in November 2019, to galvanise the world and demonstrate the UK’s continued global leadership on tackling sexual violence in conflict.
The conference will celebrate successes and highlight ongoing challenges including conflict-affected areas where sexual violence is prevalent such as the Rohingya crisis, Syria/Iraq, Boko Haram and northern Nigeria/Lake Chad Basin and the Sahel.
Our goal must be to ensure that justice is done and the perpetrators held to account. We must also tackle the stigma faced by survivors of sexual violence and children born of rape, and prevent and respond to sexual violence in conflict. Having seen the effects of Daesh-perpetrated sexual violence first hand in Mosul last year, I know how important holding Daesh to account is in order secure justice, tackle the stigma and support the reintegration of survivors back into their communities. In too many countries, those who commit atrocities can rest easy in the assumption that they will never face the consequences. I want to replace the culture of impunity with one of deterrence.
That will only happen if prosecutors are able to gather evidence and bring cases before impartial courts. That is why we are working with civil society and the international community to strengthen police forces and judiciaries around the world.
Britain has helped to train thousands of police and military personnel on how to counter sexual and gender-based violence. British diplomats are under instructions to ensure that international agreements reflect the need for accountability for these crimes. In 2018, we secured language in the recent UK-drafted renewal of UN sanctions for Libya, UN Resolution 2441, which instituted sanctions against anyone guilty of atrocities, specifically including “sexual and gender-based violence”.
In DRC, Britain helped to fund a trial that led to the conviction of 11 members of a militia for the rape and murder of 37 children. For the first time, a serving government official was among those found guilty. Yet this small advance must be set against the appalling fact that as many as 200,000 women have been raped in DRC since 1998.
About 50,000 women were raped during the war in Bosnia between 1992 and 1995 but only 30 people have been convicted for sexual violence before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
In 2017, together with the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence Pramila Patten, I launched the Principles for Global Action: preventing and addressing stigma associated with conflict-related sexual violence, a set of principles and recommendations to help inform their work in this area.
We must do everything possible to remove the stigma which causes such harm. In November 2018, I was delighted to host a film festival designed to harness the power of cinema to Fight Stigma through Film and to be joined by the Countess of Wessex, UN Special Envoy Angelina Jolie and SRSG Patten. The event brought together filmmakers from over 14 countries including Nigeria, Syria and Burma, and demonstrated the UKs commitment to fight stigma.
For too long, the issue of sexual violence in conflict has been left in the shadows. The stigma has been seen as inevitable; the pain immeasurable. Our shared aim must be to place the stigma attached to sexual violence where it rightfully belongs – on the perpetrators. Now is the time to act.
Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon is Minister of State and Prime Minister’s Special Representative for Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict