Government explores solutions to sexual violence in conflict

The UK government is taking measures to tackle the issue of sexual violence in conflict zones with the MOD playing a large part.

The UK is getting involved in the fight against sexual violence in conflict zones along with other members of the UN. In recognition of the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict (19 June 2019) the UK government and MOD have been involved in initiatives to tackle the problem. According to the UN ‘conflict-related sexual violence’ includes “rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, forced abortion, enforced sterilization, forced marriage and any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity perpetrated against women, men, girls or boys that is directly or indirectly linked to a conflict.”

Data from the Gender-Based Violence Information Management System (GBVIMS) shows that Internationally Displaced Persons (IDP) are the most vulnerable group, accounting for 87% of all reported cases of sexual violence in 2018. Women and girls are more often affected, accounting for 98% of the reported incidents of gender-based sexual violence in the fourth quarter of last year. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the UN’s Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict which aims to reduce incidents of violence during and after conflict and ensure the needs of survivors are met.

There has been a lot of focus on the issue in recent months in relation to the ongoing conflict in Sudan. British troops have been deployed to the Malakal camp in the South of the country to teach self-defence methods to women and girls, as part of a larger UN peacekeeping mission. The programme also aims to help identify risks and give women the knowledge and confidence to report any incidences and seek help.

The UN is aiming for a joined-up approach between services available in South Sudan to tackle all examples of gender-based violence, particularly the stigma that survivors face which can often prevent them from reporting abuse. Captain Euan Irvine, lead instructor and Malakal Engineer Group Second in Command, said: “We are continually seeking opportunities to assist with the protection of the most vulnerable people in South Sudan to prevent incidents of sexual violence in conflict. This initiative allows us to contribute to empowering the women we live and work alongside.”

“By coaching women on basic self-defence methods, it gives them the self-confidence to be able to make an assessment of the situation and react effectively to keep them safe.”

Workshop participant Nyakot John Jok said: “The situation in the camp is very poor because of money. We have food but we do not have money to buy things.  I have learnt how to escape from someone who wants to fight me or wants to attack me. It makes me feel safer and I am very happy with that.”

The UK has also announced the formation of the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative (PSVI) Survivor Champion to support the work of the Special Representative appointed by the Prime Minister to tackle the issue. The role will involve engaging with networks of survivors, including children born of rape, and encouraging a holistic approach to their recovery and an effort to tackle the stigma they may face in their communities. Lord (Tariq) Ahmad of Wimbledon said of his role:

“Putting survivors at the heart of the UK’s Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative is vital to honouring all survivors of this horrific crime. The PSVI Survivor Champion will ensure that the needs and concerns of survivors are central to our policy and programming on this issue. Now is the #TimeForJustice.”

The UK will also host the Time For Justice: Putting Survivors First international conference in London on 18-20 November of this year. The conference will gather international governments and agencies as well as survivors to explore approaches to the issue and methods of holding perpetrators to account. Lord Ahmad said: “The UK has trained over 17,000 military and police personnel on sexual violence issues, deployed UK experts over 90 times to affected countries, and committed over £46 million in funding to support projects around the world. Unfortunately, much more still needs to be done.”

“We will agree concrete actions with our international partners that will make a real difference to the lives of survivors. These will include international standards for gathering and preserving evidence, accountability and justice mechanisms, and an international declaration of humanity.”

In April of the year, the UN adopted Resolution 2467 which aims to create a well-rounded approach to tackling the issue. This includes:

  • Increasing the consequences of committing CRSV (Conflict-Related Sexual Violence)
  • Allowing the UN Security Council to use sanctions against those who commit CRSV
  • Creating a survivor-centred approach
  • Calling for reparations and livelihood support for survivors
  • Calling for empowering women as a way to tackle the root cause.

The UN highlights structural gender inequality as the underlying cause of the problem of sexual violence. As such, it recommends an approach that doesn’t just tackle the immediate aftermath of attacks, but the problems within the wider community. This includes dismantling the stigma that survivors face and challenging the idea that committing sexual offences is ‘cost-free’, and providing ongoing support for victims, financially and psychologically, to help them rebuild their lives.

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