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Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict

Volume 594: debated on Thursday 12 March 2015

I wish to inform the House of progress the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has made on preventing sexual violence in conflict since the June 2014 global summit to end sexual violence in conflict.

The summit resulted in a number of important and ambitious commitments to end sexual violence in conflict. Since the summit we have worked to implement these commitments and to deliver practical and far reaching change in those countries worst affected by conflict-related sexual violence. This has been focused on six priority areas:

implementing the international protocol on the documentation and investigation of sexual violence in conflict launched at the summit;

promoting legislative reform;

providing more support to survivors of sexual violence and the organisations and individuals who work with them;

incorporating sexual violence issues into military training and doctrine;

working with international organisations to encourage their greater work and support on the issue; and

supporting those Governments who announced new plans or strategies at the summit.

We have translated the international protocol into French, Spanish, Arabic, Nepalese and Bosnian. We are developing training materials to support its use, regional training events on its implementation in different local contexts and training courses. This includes developing long-term training and mentoring programmes on documentation and investigation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC); providing financial support to NGOs to implement the protocol in Colombia; a year-long training project for local human rights NGOs and lawyers in Nepal; and launch events in Bosnia to raise the profile of the protocol with the Government, judges and NGOs. This work aims to help these Governments and civil society organisations to prevent and prosecute sexual violence crimes. The results of the training will inform future versions of the protocol to ensure that it meets the needs of those using it on the ground and our ambition that the protocol becomes widely used and recognised as international best practice.

In November, a joint UK/Canada scoping mission to Iraq looked at what support we can provide in response to the crimes being committed by ISIL. Our subsequent work includes strengthening local women’s organisations, including their capacity to investigate sexual violence crimes. This supports the Department for International Development’s wider humanitarian programming in the region. In January, we organised an event with local and international NGOs which brought together women from Syria and Iraq to be trained on the protocol as well as to develop wider ideas on how they can work in the most challenging of circumstances. We are hosting a follow-up meeting at the Commission on the Status of Women to encourage donor support for the work of women’s human rights defenders in Iraq and Syria.

We continue to lobby more countries to accede to the Rome statute of the International Criminal Court and to implement it fully in domestic legislation. We are encouraging recognition and support for the policy paper on sexual and gender-based crimes released by the Office of the ICC Prosecutor, which will help ensure the effective investigation and prosecution of these crimes from preliminary examination through to appeal.

We have supported a number of projects with human rights defenders and NGOs working to end sexual violence in DRC, South Sudan, Somalia, Guatemala, Nigeria, Kosovo, Colombia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Burma. These projects have helped survivors rebuild their lives by accessing justice, legal advice and psychosocial support and challenging the cultural or social stigma associated with being a victim of these crimes. We will support similar projects over the course of 2015-16. We recently co-hosted a meeting of international faith leaders as a follow-up to the summit discussions on their role and responsibility in supporting survivors and their communities and challenging traditional attitudes to gender and sexual violence. The recommendations from this meeting developed by the participants provide an important basis for future action.

We have deployed members of the UK team of PSVI experts to Kosovo, the Syrian borders, Bosnia and Herzegovina and the DRC to provide support to survivors, improve investigations and increase prosecutions of sexual violence in conflict. We have also deployed members of the team to the EU training mission in Mali, training the Malian army on how to protect civilians from human rights violations, including sexual and gender-based violence. Improving military standards to prevent and respond to sexual violence is critical to achieving change. The action plan on sexual violence for the army announced by the DRC Government after the global summit is a welcome example of this commitment. My right hon. and noble Friend, Baroness Anelay of St Johns, Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, discussed its implementation with President Kabila’s personal representative in the fight against sexual violence and child recruitment in the DRC, during her recent visit to London. The UK also has some valuable expertise to share in this area, including the work of the Peace Support Operations Training Centre in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the recent training provided by the British Peace Support Team in eastern Africa to African Union peacekeeping personnel troops. We are using this expertise to inform the forthcoming UN Secretary-General’s peace operations review.

In September 2014, I co-hosted an event at the UN General Assembly with the Under-Secretary-General and special representative of the UN Secretary-General on sexual violence in conflict to encourage implementation by the 155 UN member states who have endorsed the declaration of commitment to end sexual violence in conflict and to reiterate the critical role of the special representative on this issue. Her work has been fundamental to achieving progress over the last year, such as her agreement with the Government of South Sudan in October of a joint communiqué on preventing conflict-related sexual violence and the work of her team to support implementation of the Federal Government of Somalia’s national action plan for addressing sexual violence, presented at the summit.

We have encouraged other multilateral organisations to do more, including at the NATO summit in September and through the work of the European Union. We provided funding to support the deployment of the African Union team of experts to help victims of sexual violence in the Central African Republic that the AU announced at the summit and discussed opportunities for greater future AU leadership on this agenda with the AU special envoy for women, peace and security last month.

In our work since the summit it has become clear that there is a need for a greater academic underpinning on these issues and the most effective ways of tackling them. I am proud of the support that we have given to establishing the UK’s first academic centre for women, peace and security at the London School of Economics. Working with experts in the field and universities around the world, the centre will create a critical mass of expertise and knowledge focused on the empowerment of women and the ending of impunity for sexual violence crimes and play a critical role in future efforts to bring an end to sexual violence in conflict once and for all.