Motion to Take Note
That this House takes note of the Report from the Sexual Violence in Conflict Committee (Session 2015–16, HL Paper 123).
My Lords, my first and most pleasant duty is to thank the committee for its amazing work. This is a report of substance and with considerable recommendations in it. We have already had the Government’s response, for which we thank the Minister. In my remarks I will also comment on potential next steps, but first I thank the committee and say what a pleasure it was to work with each and every one of them. I am grateful for that opportunity, and for the large number of the committee members able to be in their seats this evening.
Of course, the report came about because of the hard work of our clerks as well. I thank seriously and significantly Aaron Speer, Cathryn Auplish and Thomas Cheminais for their enormous diligence and exceptional hard work. They were supported by Professor Chinkin, who is the director of the Centre for Women Peace and Security at the London School of Economics, as well as being emeritus professor of international law at that university, and by Owen Williams, who deals with House of Lords media and supported us with the launch of the committee’s work, the launch of our report, and on this debate. We thank you all. We believe our work shows our gratitude for everything you have done.
Our topic, the prevention of sexual violence in conflict, was exceedingly familiar to us through its identification by the former Foreign Secretary, my noble friend Lord Hague of Richmond, who placed PSVI as a new pillar of UK foreign policy, in which he was supported by my noble friend Lady Helic. I pay warm tribute to them both. Without that clear leadership, Britain would have had no capacity to focus internationally on this most important topic. Their Lordships drew in Angelina Jolie Pitt, the famous actress and UNHCR ambassador. DfID came in strongly under the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, to whom we are most grateful, with the important departmental policy on women and girls. A key focus of the committee was on men and boys—this is a crime against the whole human family, not just against one aspect of it.
Magnificent Foreign and Commonwealth Office work brought us the global conference on PSVI in London in June 2014. I was glad to be present; I did not make a contribution. It was a magnificent conference. It led directly to the selection of the topic as a suitable one for an ad hoc Select Committee. We on the committee began our work in mid-summer of 2015—we are debating our findings now—and we have not stopped: we have set up an all-party parliamentary group to continue this vital work.
However, your Lordships may be aware that while those lofty aspirations were being discussed, refined and honed, and support sought and gathered by national leaders and the United Nations, ISIL/Daesh was planting its evil flag in both Syria and Iraq. While we were discussing at the far end of London these great ideals, on the ground a new round of sexual violence in conflict was taking place.
The importance of this topic can be given to us only by the victims themselves. I quote: “How could you do this to me? I am young enough to be your granddaughter”. Another victim related the following exchange: “‘Are you scared?’ I said yes. He laughed and said it wasn’t his problem. He burnt me then with cigarettes on my shoulder, my stomach and my legs. I didn’t even have the strength to speak after that”. Another girl said, “A man came in and said he wanted to marry me. But I told him I wouldn’t marry him even if he killed me. Then he raped me. He was 60 years old. I was just 15. They raped girls as young as 12. They kept a room full of girls younger than 11 with underdeveloped breasts and they felt them every few days to see whether their chests were developed enough to make it worth while raping them”. Another victim said, “One of my friends killed herself. She went to the bathroom and slit her wrists. Then they started raping us. We were screaming and crying. When I saw they were raping girls every day, I decided to try to kill myself as well. I didn’t succeed. They brought me back to the room, still alive, and as my punishment they locked me for 12 hours in the room with six armed guards who raped me in every orifice of my body right throughout that time. I was in agony. I bled so much”.
That is why we gave such incredible attention to this most miserable of topics. I met those three Yazidi girls who gave us their stories in Baghdad in April 2015. They begged me to have their voices heard. Where better could I take them than our committee? With FCO backing and Home Office support, I brought them to London and to the committee. I pay tribute here to the Prevent programme, whose advice, guidance and help were magnificent. They made a small film of the girls, covering their faces. That went round every single British school. We visited Birmingham and the “Trojan horse” schools and had a massive impact on those young people. I chair the AMAR Foundation, which provided medical cover and administrative support, but the British Government were amazing.
We heard in the committee from other victims, too. A very brave young woman from Uganda, who had been kidnapped and kept in the bush, told us her story. She had been there for years. When she came out, she told us all about victims not being accepted again into their families, which gave us a lot to think about. Three members of your Lordships’ committee visited the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We met there other victims. I recall a girl on a hospital bed who had just arrived—there were only two hospitals in DRC that she could go to; it had taken her two weeks to arrive with her mother. She was 14 and speechless. She had been raped by a gang who were supposedly peacekeepers. She needed surgery. The doctor, who had trained in Glasgow, told me that when these girls are pregnant, their wombs will burst, because they are not just raped by other bodies but raped with bits of armaments, wood and nails, so inside their bodies are destroyed. The same goes on for men and boys as well. Physical health and mental trauma are necessary to address.
Our investigations opened a Pandora’s box of horrors—Dürer’s descent into hell was as nothing to what we heard. Our committee took oral and written evidence from many people; many sessions went on. We understand that we steadily compiled the largest single body of work on PSVI to have been collected. We hope that it will help the various universities, which are showing enormous interest in this work. I was given the opportunity by the committee to go to the recent World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul in May this year, exactly a year after the committee started its work. Keen interest was shown there, too.
This is an important topic, and our overwhelming view as we compiled our report was that the British Government were right to highlight this crime against humanity; that it was a crime that has been in the shadows but one of massive proportions; and that the British Government should not give up and that what they have started they must carry on. We also concluded that this needed a whole-society approach; it cannot be done by government alone. That is because this crime against humanity is no single episode, nor does it cease when the rapist leaves. The destruction of the victim’s personality has been achieved; their core strengths have been demolished; their belief in their own integrity has gone; their trust in others has disappeared. Like torture victims, they are supplicants pleading for life and safety. In that condition, they become victims again. Many go into camps; they become trafficked, forcibly married or squatters. They live from hand to mouth. Frequently, they are not accepted by their families or their villages. Sometimes, we heard that their physical condition is so appalling that the stench is too great for others to go near them. A whole-healing approach is needed, for body, mind and spirit, for individuals, families, communities and regions.
I pay warm tribute to the Minister, who has travelled and spoken tirelessly in affected countries—country after country. Only two weeks ago, she pleaded the case for PSVI in the United Nations. I give tribute to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby who joined me at an important four-day conference that we held in Windsor Castle with LDS Charities and the AMAR Foundation, with the backing of Westminster Abbey and Cumberland Lodge. We focused on religious persecution as a driver for forced migration, which must also be taken into account and not just looked at from a humanitarian aspect. That is because most people want to go home and to have a safe future. Very often, religion is used as a cover for theft of property and lives. We have to address these things as well as the humanitarian angle on its own.
Sexual violence in conflict is a moral issue. It destroys the family, which is the basic unit of society. Its impact on the development of peace and security is appalling, and the attacks on the right to worship make it a political as well as a religious issue. It is undoubtedly a legal issue. I believe, as does I think the committee, that if we are the largest aid donor in the world and as the banner-bearer of human rights everywhere with our Modern Slavery Act, Bribery Act and our strong justice and rule of law, it is a British issue. As we reconfigure our international relationships today, we will be even better placed to be the lodestar for the world.
The special rapporteur for the departing Secretary-General for the United Nations is Zainab Bangura. She comments on PSVI that this violence,
“casts a long shadow over our collective humanity”.
We in the UK can lift that shadow. To do so, we now need a robust strategic interdepartmental plan supported and implemented by all aspects of British society, with full transparency and common sharing of achievements—a plan and outcomes. That is the way in which the suffering of millions of victims over the years that we have heard and found out about can be not assuaged because it happened but prevented in future. I beg to move.
My Lords, I declare an interest as visiting professor in practice at the Centre for Women, Peace and Security at the London School of Economics. I thank the committee and in particular its chairman, my noble friend Lady Nicholson of Winterbourne, for their excellent work, their great commitment to this subject and the depth of knowledge they show in what I hope will be a widely read and thoroughly implemented report. I agree with all their recommendations and have a few thoughts to add of my own.
I echo the tribute to our noble friend Lady Anelay on the Front Bench, who took over from me as the Prime Minister’s special representative on preventing sexual violence in conflict. She has shown great enthusiasm and persistence in doing so. We all must help her in her work.
The reason I founded the preventing sexual violence initiative, with Angelina Jolie, to whom I also pay tribute, was the people I met around the world over the previous years. There were the women I met in refugee camps in Darfur who were at risk of violence and rape whenever they left the camp to look for firewood, even in camps organised by western aid agencies. They had no protection. The use of rape was clearly a means of instilling terror into the population. I met people in Bosnia who had suffered terribly from organised sexual violence in the conflict there in the 1990s. Tens of thousands of people did so and had never seen justice for these crimes. In fact, it is common in many societies for the victims to live a life of stigma and shame rather than the perpetrators of these crimes.
In Syria, in the conflict that began while I was Foreign Secretary, it soon became apparent that the Assad regime would use all means of violence, including sexual violence, against women and men. That has been followed, as my noble friend Lady Nicholson explained, by the rise of ISIL or Daesh, with the clear objective of enslaving women, actually promising to recruits the opportunity to carry out sexual violence. It is impossible to go around the world with your eyes open without being revolted by these events and sights, and without thinking that someone must do something to prevent such crimes occurring with such impunity. I found in my experience with this initiative that there are really three obstacles for us to overcome in making that effort successful.
The first obstacle is the belief in some quarters that this is not really part of foreign policy. It may be a worthwhile subject but it is in a different box somewhere, an add-on luxury to foreign policy. Certainly I found when I first raised this at the G8 Foreign Ministers meeting in 2013 a certain amount of cynicism, at least from the Russian Foreign Minister, about the need to address this as part of foreign policy. But what is the point of foreign policy if it does not have among its objectives improving the condition of humanity? In any case, it is part of our constant objective in foreign policy to minimise the crises in the world, to maintain peace and security. If mass rape is brought about to make it harder to achieve peace in certain conflicts, which it is, to make it harder for communities to work together, to increase flows of refugees—it is deliberately designed to do that—and to perpetuate conflict, how can anyone say that dealing with it is not a crucial part of foreign policy? Of course it is part of addressing global peace and security. It is indivisible from that objective.
The second obstacle we must overcome is the thinking that it is again a separate issue—a women’s issue. It is something that women have campaigned on but male political leaders have not previously troubled themselves to do so. However, these are crimes committed exclusively by men and they must be challenged by men. That they happened while the whole world did nothing should shame all men. We men have an important role to play alongside women campaigners in dealing with such impunity.
The third obstacle to overcome is the idea that nothing can really be achieved. I have lost count of the number of people who said to me over the last four years, “These are worthy objectives, but it is very hard to do anything about it, is it not? This is as old the hills. It has always happened in warfare”. Is the world so hopeless that we can witness acts that destroy lives, families and communities on a vast scale and then shrug our shoulders and say “Nothing can be done”? In any case, it is not true that nothing can be done. On so many terrible, enormous issues in international affairs, international agreement has been established: on the treatment of prisoners of war, on not using chemical weapons—until the Syria conflict, of course—and on agreements about nuclear arsenals. The world is used to the idea of laws and agreements about what is acceptable in war, and of punishing as war crimes acts that go beyond those established limits. These crimes are war crimes and should be treated as such.
It also shows that we can make ground on this that we have made some small, limited progress. There are now prosecutions in Bosnia, and there have been at the International Criminal Court—although not enough. Military training has been changed in some countries. A large number of small actions can add up to major progress. At the summit that we held here in London in 2014, anyone who witnessed the outpouring of hope, passion, expertise and commitment on this issue from thousands of people, from NGOs and activists who have campaigned on this and worked with the survivors for so many years, knows that things can be done. We must make a success of this initiative and it is additionally related to part of a wider objective, which I always state as being the great strategic prize of the 21st century: the full political, social and economic empowerment of women to play an equal part in every society, Government, walk of life and peace process. It is impossible to achieve such an objective in a world where mass rape as a weapon of war goes unchallenged.
What is to be done next? The committee set out some important and clear recommendations. In the view of time and so many noble Lords wishing to speak, I will not go through all the recommendations I would like to draw attention to, but I will mention a couple. Particularly, there is recommendation 4, to recognise the value of this work to DfID, the Ministry of Defence, the Home Office and other departments. That requires support across government. I am very pleased that the Ministry of Defence—including the Defence Secretary, who recently led a major international conference at Lancaster House on the behaviour of peacekeepers—has become so committed to this. Recommendation 24 draws attention to the importance of,
“ending sexual violence against men and boys”,
which is an important point. Recommendation 61 draws attention to the situation in Syria and calls for,
“a plan to respond to those who have suffered sexual violence during the conflict”.
This should be part of our humanitarian response—it often is—and our political response to communicate to the world what ISIL really is and to show a clear alternative to it.
The report also calls for further summits on preventing sexual violence in conflict to be held at regular intervals. I would go a little further and say that if no other country is holding it, the United Kingdom should hold it again, so that people can come to that summit and ask what has been achieved and show what has been achieved, so that the momentum we built up in the 2014 summit is maintained. The tools are there, such as the protocol we devised, which is now being translated into many languages to make sure that it is possible to record and detect the evidence of crimes of sexual violence, and the commitments made by many Governments of the world. Now we have to make sure that they are used.
I will end with the main lesson that I learned from all this, which is that it is only when a major Government in the world put their full weight behind this subject that we make real progress in changing the attitudes of the rest of the world. It is only then that you get the resolutions at the Security Council and 155 nations signing up to a declaration. So I hope that the Foreign Secretary, as well as my noble friend, will make this one of his personal objectives for the future. I hope that the next President of the United States will do so, although that may require a particular outcome. I hope that we will all be able to maintain our emphatic support for this initiative and the splendid work the committee has done.
My Lords, I thank the members of this extremely productive committee, and I express particular gratitude to the clerks and advisers, who provided a great deal of very welcome assistance with every aspect of our work.
Our committee’s report is comprehensive and, I think, constructive. The positive response from specialist NGOs and other campaigners testifies to those qualities. However, I am sure I am not alone in believing that we still have a lot more to do. The huge extent and enduring atrocity of sexual violence against women in conflict is a humanitarian crisis of our times. It means that our committee report must be regarded as a spur to giving much greater emphasis to increased efforts to ensure that women can be guaranteed protection and justice.
Obviously, armed conflict of any kind is a terrible offence against women. The terror of bombardment and marauding troops, the desperate fear for their children, the destruction of homes, and the agonies of fleeing and plunging into the unknown—of becoming refugees—are combined cruelties. Those crimes against humanity are intensified by the monstrous injustice that typically women are non-combatants who pose no threat. They are innocents who neither cause nor continue warfare.
For instance, we know that in South Sudan, Syria and the Central African Republic, women are routinely experiencing specific and devastating sexual violence and transmitted infections. They are stigmatised and ostracised, and when rape results in pregnancy the social rejection, as I have frequently seen, is appalling and often lifelong. That is why the Geneva Conventions and international humanitarian law say that when rape is used as a weapon of war, women have an absolute right to safe, non-discriminatory care—crucially, that includes access to safe termination of pregnancy caused by rape.
Nothing could be clearer. But that right urgently needs strict and universal enforcement, particularly when authorities in so many countries have been pitifully unwilling to fulfil those obligations. Despite co-ordinated efforts since 2002 to combat sexual violence during armed conflict, rape and other forms of sexual violence persist and are used as a part of a military strategy. Recognising that, all providers of humanitarian services, including the United Kingdom, must register strong concern that abortion continues to be refused as an option for girls and women who have been raped in armed conflict because, we are told, termination is illegal in the country involved.
Surely, if it is to be credible, international humanitarian law must supersede domestic law. Will the Minister therefore give the House a clear policy statement on the abortion rights of victims of rape in war, including reference to the impact of US abortion restrictions on DfID-funded aid? In theory, as she will know, UK action and spending are not directly affected by the US’s “no abortion” foreign aid restriction. In practice, however, because funds are not segregated, the ban is applied across the board. This means that women and girls suffer additional trauma because they have to carry to term pregnancies resulting from rape. Does the Minister agree that the specific and absolute legal and medical rights of women raped in war should be incorporated into DfID policies and observed as fully as the rights to medical treatment of other war victims?
As our committee evidence shows, women have a profound personal interest in building peace and reconciliation, and that is not properly used. As I have seen many times in several conflict-torn developing countries, women frequently have the wisdom and judgment to contribute convincingly to peacemaking, but they are still customarily ignored, marginalised and excluded from the international peace and security discourse. That is why we must work for women to be included in all peace processes and, following on from our Select Committee deliberations, we must continue to press for an end to the neglect of women’s needs, concerns and opinions. The struggle for their rights has to include urgent investment in health systems, agriculture and, of course, girls’ education. It also means that the groundwork for post-conflict equality and reconstruction has to include the full participation of women as a high priority.
Under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court,
“Rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution … or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity”
are recognised as both crimes against humanity and war crimes. In concluding, therefore, I put three questions to the Minister. First, since all forms of violence against women and girls clearly increase in conflict, how are efforts to prevent sexual violence in conflict being integrated into DfID’s ongoing work to combat such violence? Secondly, our committee identified the absence of any mechanism for reporting on and collating prevention of sexual violence initiatives. Will Her Majesty’s Government therefore fully integrate those initiatives into the forthcoming national action plan? Thirdly, the funding attached to preventing sexual violence in conflict is currently short-term but, obviously, combating that crime is a long-term task that we must undertake. Will the Government therefore commit themselves to long-term funding and support for the organisations that have impressive records of work in this area? Constructive responses to these questions will give positive proof that the Government are implementing good intentions by taking substantive actions. That, I am certain, is what the whole House is seeking.
My Lords, coming together to focus on this difficult and complex task under the tireless leadership of the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson of Winterbourne, and with the assistance of our excellent clerks and advisers, we somehow managed to maintain focus throughout the process of examining hundreds of pages of written evidence and personal submissions. Reading of and hearing directly the details recounted by those who had suffered violent sexual assaults during conflicts and their subsequent physical and psychological damage, such as those cited by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, is absolutely shocking. Hearing how other people have experienced those things is a very uncomfortable process and very distressing. We owe all those who have suffered a commitment to spread knowledge about these appalling acts, especially on behalf of those unable to do so themselves, and to harry those with the power to effect change to do so swiftly.
The report made it clear that there is a critical and urgent need to address the current problem of extreme, brutalising sexual violence, which is explicitly a part of the ideological armoury of perpetrators in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere. Sadly, sexual violence, predominantly but not exclusively against women, takes place in too many countries for too much of the time to name them all in our report. Fragile states with weak governance structures and failing, corrupt and biased judiciaries where violence against girls and women goes unpunished—in some instances, as the noble Lord, Lord Hague, said, it is the female victims themselves who are punished—are precisely the places where conflict is most likely to arise. The casual disregard shown for females in some of those societies is exacerbated if sectarian, intertribal or civil or international war erupts. This practice of using sexual assault as a weapon of war is widespread; it is transcultural and transhistorical. I take some comfort from the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Hague, who has been told many times that this kind of violence will always be with us in times of conflict. I am sure that I do not need to tell him that people said the same to Wilberforce, Sharp, Equiano and others about the struggle to end the transatlantic slave trade.
In their response to our report, the UK Government note that they have pursued or supported PSVI activity in a wide range of countries, including Colombia. Unfortunately, our schedule did not allow us the time to address in detail the impact of the long-standing conflict in that country, and I want to address my remarks to that area now. I thank Louise Winstanley, the programme and advocacy manager for ABColombia, for an up-to-date briefing on the situation there. As noble Lords will be aware, there have been some recent developments. The Colombian Government and FARC, the largest guerrilla group operating in that country, signed a peace accord on 26 September. As a result of his efforts to secure peace, Juan Manuel Santos, the Colombian President, was named last week as this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner. The war between various paramilitary factions and Governments has been going on for over 50 years. All sides have committed human rights violations including murder, torture, forced displacements, and of course sexual violence. The peace accord was put to a referendum on 2 October and rejected by a very narrow margin. In spite of this, both FARC and the Government made an immediate declaration that they would continue to uphold the bilateral ceasefire and try to find a way to move forward and achieve peace.
Colombia has seen conflict violence diminishing as the peace talks, which started in 2012, have progressed. In the case of human rights defenders, however, the violence has increased year on year. In March 2016, women defenders, who have been very active in the peace negotiations, were the victims in 49% of all attacks against human rights defenders in the country. Women activists have organised several delegations of women to Havana, as well as being consulted as experts, particularly but not solely on gender-based conflict violence. This is something we strongly support in the report, as the full and active representation of women in discussions and negotiations for peace is essential, as the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, said.
Another message from our report was that there should be no amnesties for conflict-related sexual violence. The Colombian women’s delegation made this point and have achieved the objective of having it written into the agreement. The transitional justice chapter of the peace accord clearly states that conflict sexual violence crimes will not be subject to an amnesty. The creation of a special investigative team for cases of sexual violence in conflict in the investigation and prosecution unit of the special tribunal for peace is another major achievement. Women’s human rights organisations and social movements have also been successful in reaching an agreement with the authorities to establish a separate historical truth commission, mandated to collect evidence of sexual violence against women and girls during the conflict.
In Colombia, neo-paramilitary groups continue to perpetrate sexual and other forms of violence against women. Unfortunately, the signing of the agreement does not signify the end of the brutality. As we heard from several witnesses during our inquiry, supporting those organisations that provide psychosocial, legal and support services to women suffering conflict sexual violence, wherever it takes place, has to be a priority.
Colombian women achieved a global milestone with the agreements reached in Havana, but with the referendum rejecting the peace accord, women’s NGOs are concerned that these hard-won and important achievements for women, especially the pledge around no amnesties for conflict sexual violence, could be lost. There is that fear, so I hope that the Minister will be able to respond positively to some of the following questions. Will she agree to facilitate a meeting with President Santos, involving UK NGOs working on Colombia, human rights and conflict sexual violence, during his state visit in November? What will the UK Government do to ensure that women’s NGOs are supported to continue to engage in peace dialogues? How might the UK Government encourage and support Colombian women’s organisations to share their experiences of engagement in the peace process and how they achieved the agreements in the peace accord signed on 26 September? Sharing this learning nationally and internationally will be invaluable, even though the accords are currently being challenged.
On another subject, the idea that those who are sent to protect you in a crisis situation abuse and exploit your vulnerability is unthinkable, and yet there are numerous documented incidences of UN peacekeepers’ participation in acts of sexual abuse and exploitation. Will the Minister undertake to take advantage of the recent appointment of Antonio Guterres as the new UN Secretary-General by drawing the committee’s report to his attention and by pressing him to pursue prosecutions and to make accountability for sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers a high priority?
Finally, I pay tribute to all the witnesses who came before the committee, either in person or via video links, or who spoke to small groups of us in private meetings or who wrote to us. Their generosity with their time and their sharing of very personal, harrowing experiences was a crucial contribution to the making of this report.
My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. I, too, thank the chairman and the members of the committee for their thorough and excellent report. I welcome the acknowledgment of how much has been achieved since the preventing sexual violence initiative was started. It is now an integral part of the work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence. It has secured the support of more than 150 countries. We have seen ground-breaking instruments adopted, such as the international protocol, and steps forward by countries such as Colombia, Bosnia, the DRC and Somalia. Where it used to be taboo, the subject is now openly discussed and addressed. I congratulate the Minister as well as the Vice-Chief of the Defence Staff for their unfaltering commitment to PSVI over the past 16 months. I hope that our new Prime Minister, who has shown such leadership against human trafficking, and our new Foreign Secretary will both give their determined backing to this policy.
Eradicating sexual violence in conflict is crucial to our objective of a more peaceful, stable and prosperous world. It is also central to our moral standing as a nation. What would it say about us as people if we were simply to turn away from this crime? I could talk about the huge trauma and damage from organised sexual violence in Bosnia, a country that is still to heal 25 years after the war, but there are more pressing situations today, including South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Iraq and Syria. Indeed, as the committee notes, there are at least 19 countries where sexual violence in conflict is being committed today, directly contributing to international instability—including, I would argue, to the global refugee crisis.
Like others in this House, I have met refugees, both women and men, who specifically fled from rape or the threat of rape. Last month, I met Iraqi refugees in Jordan who fell into the hands of Daesh. One of them was seven months pregnant when she was attacked repeatedly in the presence of her young son. Her sister suffered the same fate, along with countless other women. Rape is a silent weapon of choice for terrorising, humiliating, stigmatising and destroying individuals, families and communities. It has affected millions of people across the world in conflicts in our lifetimes. Our national interest and our moral responsibility will, I hope, keep us focused on the work needed to be done to address this scourge. This has to be a long-term objective, because we are only at the beginning. PSVI should not be an initiative for one Parliament, one party, one Government, or even one government department. It is the work of generations to change attitudes as well as laws and the conduct of militaries.
I know it is the Government’s intention to build on the PSVI. I welcome the Minister’s plans to focus on tackling stigma in the next stage of the initiative, and I admire the dedication, compassion and commitment she brings to her role. In that spirit, I would like to raise four issues arising from the committee’s recommendations. First, a major reason this crime occurs with impunity during conflict is because it is often treated as a lesser crime after the conflict and is often swept under the carpet in forging peace agreements. Can the Minister assure the House that, as part of changing this trend once and for all, the Government will live up to their commitment not be party to any peace agreement that does not include accountability for crimes of sexual violence? Can she give that guarantee in relation to the Syria conflict?
Secondly, a barrier to prosecutions for rape everywhere in the world is the difficulty in obtaining and preserving evidence. I urge the Government to work with other countries and the United Nations significantly to expand the work of the PSVI team of experts in relation to Syria in particular. Can the Minister say more about what accountability mechanisms the UK will put forward to enable the prosecution of these crimes—not just those committed by Daesh but those committed by all parties involved in the conflict?
Thirdly, if the United Nations commitment to include women negotiators in peace processes is ever to become a reality, it has to begin now. Can the Minister reaffirm that it is the Government’s policy to ensure the formal inclusion of women in all peace processes to which our country is party or that we support through our UN Security Council role? Can she give that assurance in relation to Syria? What practical steps will the Government take to ensure that women are included in a future peace settlement?
Finally, violence against women does not take place only in faraway countries. It occurs in our communities and neighbourhoods. It blights the lives of our neighbours and friends and sometimes of our colleagues. Countless women suffer at the hands of their partner each day. They live in shame. They do not speak. They are often blamed and isolated. Domestic violence thrives when we are silent. We need to tackle it with all means at our disposal.
I therefore find it discouraging that, four years after signing the Istanbul convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, the UK has still not ratified it. I know that our country already complies with most of the provisions of the convention and I welcome that, but how can we exercise our international leadership in combating sexual violence abroad without ratifying the convention at home? Can the Minister give some indication of when she expects the ratification process to begin? I hope that together we can break through the bureaucratic barricades and finally conclude this process.
I conclude by paying tribute to the co-founders of PSVI, my noble friend Lord Hague and the UNHCR special envoy Angelina Jolie, for their vision and commitment. I also pay tribute to the men and women of the Foreign Office who combined diplomatic skills and moral conviction to pursue PSVI to such international effect. I hope that the Government will heed my noble friend’s call for a follow-up PSVI summit, to build momentum and hold other countries to the commitments they have made.
As the committee notes, there is much more to do. Future progress is not guaranteed. But, having begun this work, there is no scenario where it could be in our national interest, or compatible with our global responsibilities, to turn away from the effort to eradicate rape as a weapon of war. I believe that this is the Government’s intention, and I hope that they will have the wholehearted support of the House.
My Lords, I, too, served on the committee, and it was a great privilege to be part of it. I pay tribute to the expert chairmanship of the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson. We were, to put it mildly, a diverse group, but she held us together, and we produced a report that will be significant as a foundation, as other noble Lords have said. I also offer my congratulations to the Minister, who leads by great example, as seen not just at the recent meeting at the UN in September but in all kinds of ways. She has been an encouragement and a force for the right direction within government, and I am very grateful for that contribution. I also pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Hague, for his PSV initiative. I had the privilege of being present at the summit in 2014, which has created a momentum that we need to learn from and develop. I will pick up the theme mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hague, of the significance of important Governments making a public stand. In doing that, I will also speak as a faith community leader.
There has been a great deal of high-level response since 2014, with resolutions at the UN and with our own Government taking a lead. But of course our report shows that on the ground the situation remains horrific. As the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, said, a deep culture perpetuates this crime, whatever kind of high-level political resolutions we pass. As just one perspective on the sheer complexity of the challenge beneath the level of resolutions, our own Black Rod gave evidence to the committee from his time in Bosnia. He explained very graphically that this crime happens in a context of sheer chaos. Very interestingly, recently it has been pointed out that in eastern Congo, a third of all attacks were carried out by non-military personnel—non-combatants. It is very often deep in the cultural context that this suddenly explodes when there is a space and chaos. That is what we have to grasp on the ground.
First, I will look at the significance of a major Government such as ours taking the lead that the noble Lord, Lord Hague, pointed to. The Government have a key role, but the Minister will perhaps be pleased to know that it is a limited role—we cannot land everything on the Government or expect them to solve this great issue alone. The Government have a role in two areas: first, in creating structures for debate and the right kind of practices and, secondly, in talking up and highlighting standards. I look to the Government for structures and standards.
Let us just think about structures. In our report, we say it would be sensible to have the structure of a five-year plan: let us get the ducks lined up so everybody can see what we are trying to do. I hope the Minister might comment on that proposal. There is the suggestion that the Government make an annual report just to show that the momentum is being maintained, that structures are fit for purpose, that criticism is listened to and that things that are going on can be developed. There is the suggestion in our report that there should be regular global consultations, and I was delighted to hear the noble Lord, Lord Hague, say that if other Governments will not do them we should do another one. We need to take a lead in the international scene in setting up structures where people are challenged to come and take this seriously and be seen to sign up to advancing it.
The last thing that we mentioned about structures, which other noble Lords have mentioned, is that we need to join up the efforts made, for example, by DfID and the MoD. We need to evaluate them and see how we can add value, efficiency and effectiveness by bringing our efforts together in a coherent way. So the Government have a key role in creating the structures to show their seriousness and what can be achieved—how to develop, learn and keep forward momentum. They also have a key role in setting standards. I recall meeting one survivor who had been abducted into the bush, repeatedly raped and kept as a sex slave. When the so-called peace came and everyone had gone back to their communities, she was living in a community where the people who had been raping her were regular members of the community too. That is a horrific situation, and of course in that kind of culture there is stigma attached to the woman as well.
On the kind of standards that the Government can pick up from our report, there needs to be some emphasis on rehabilitation and compensation—a really clear message that you cannot just pretend this did not happen. The report is also clear that we need to bring men and boys into the picture significantly, because too often they are ignored.
The Government need to develop standards regarding the collection and preservation of evidence. Currently that is woeful, which is why there are so few convictions. How can we as a nation learn, and help other nations to learn, about the collection and preservation of evidence? We need to use our good offices across the world—perhaps using the Foreign Office; I am not an expert on how government works—to help different jurisdictions to develop the right kind of legislation and training for judiciaries to be proactive in this field, not paralysed. Our Government, with others, need to use their efforts to ensure that the international system of justice is robust, strong and fit for purpose, which it is not yet; noble Lords will need to read the report to see why. I implore the Government to think about setting standards and creating structures.
Lastly, I want to come back to the recognition in the report of a subject that was raised at the London PSVI event in 2014: the importance of faith groups. I am not talking about this simply because I am a faith person. Actually, we are talking about the need for deep cultural engagement, under the banner of faith, in all kinds of places where women and girls are abused and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, said, excluded; along with the terrorisation of men and boys in these situations, that is just accepted too easily. In all these contexts, faith groups need to be challenged to work on four areas. The first is values. Faith tries to give values to people, so if faiths are giving values that are allowing this to happen, that needs to change. Secondly, faith tries to deal with the trickiest issue, forgiveness. Faiths need to be challenged a lot more to look at what forgiveness is and how it works. We can learn a lot from Rwanda and South Africa about how faith groups can wrestle with the reality of the knotty problem of forgiveness. Thirdly, faiths all claim to do something that in our jargon we call “community cohesion”. Clearly, though, that is not working in the case of the girl I met who went back to live in her community with the perpetrators. What does community cohesion really look like, and how should faiths be challenged to look at our title deeds, our teaching and our doctrines to put that right? Lastly, faiths set a tone about cultural norms. Whether on the treatment of women and girls or the treatment of LGBTI people, faiths set a kind of context for those values.
I hope that, besides my point about the importance of the Government showing leadership over structures and standards, a powerful Government like ours could perhaps take a lead to convene faith leaders into a space where such questions as values, forgiveness, community cohesion and cultural norms could be tackled. Sadly, the faiths do not seem to be stepping into that space on our own so we may need a challenge. The convening power of a Government such as the British Government is huge, as the noble Lord, Lord Hague, showed with the event in 2014. Mine is a small suggestion but one that I think could have an enormous impact beyond the realms of the technicalities of government.
My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. I, too, was a member of the Select Committee—the first I have served on in the House—and it was a privilege to serve under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lady Nicholson. As the right reverend Prelate said, we began as a group with some fairly disparate views, and it is a tribute to her chairmanship that we managed to come to agreement in the report. I also thank my fellow members. We heard a huge body of evidence from many people, so I also thank the clerks, who did such excellent work reading, digesting and synthesising the enormous volume of evidence submitted to the committee. I also thank Professor Christine Chinkin for all her wise advice to us.
The field trip to the DRC that I undertook with my noble friend Lady Nicholson and the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, during which, in Goma, we met some of the survivors of brutal sexual assaults, brought home to us with stark clarity why this is such an important issue. I pay enormous tribute to my noble friend Lord Hague for launching the initiative on preventing sexual violence in conflict with UNHCR Special Representative Angelina Jolie. It was politically very courageous as, although UN Resolutions 1820 and 1888 had raised the subject previously, they had made little global impact. As my noble friend said, many people said that it was just too difficult to address, but the initiative, through getting buy-in at the G8 and through the UN General Assembly declaration, which I believe 155 countries signed up to, made the world acknowledge that this is a terrible war crime and that those who perpetrate it should be punished.
I also recognise the enormous contribution that my noble friend Lady Helic has made, and the Minister for leading the work in her capacity as the Prime Minister’s special representative for preventing sexual violence in conflict. I also acknowledge the outstanding work of the team at the Foreign Office under the lead first of Emma Hopkins and latterly of Tom Woodroffe. All of us who attended the global summit in London in 2014 on preventing sexual violence in conflict will remember it as an unforgettable event.
Besides the Foreign Office, other departments have played their part, too, particularly DfID and the MoD, and I congratulate General Messenger on the remarkable leadership that he has shown on the women, peace and security agenda. It was so heartening to attend the session on women, peace and security at the UN peacekeeping ministerial in London last month, where the case was laid out so clearly. I hope that the MoD will encourage the military in other countries to have a champion like General Messenger. I also commend the outstanding work of Major Grimes in the DRC, which showed the benefit of the military engaging with local populations. It is often the military who first come across survivors of sexual violence and who need to protect the local population. The UK is now including PSVI in some of its training for the military overseas.
As we have already heard, levels of sexual violence have been rising to epidemic proportions in conflict today, destroying people, families and communities—not only physically maiming and killing but creating psychological damage that can trickle down the generations. The devastating effects of sexual violence in conflict are long-lasting and permeate societies even after the actual fighting has stopped.
I was horrified when I visited Liberia a few years ago to discover many 12 year-old girls there were raped and that the elders in society did not really view this as a crime. Even some of the girls at the university told me that they were asked to exchange sex for grades. Because there is such stigma about sexual violence, it often goes unreported, and I suspect that the level of sexual violence affecting men is very hidden. I recall a visit some years ago to a young man in Rwanda. He was a victim of sexual violence, had contracted HIV and lived in abject poverty on the edge of a village, shunned by the community. It was heart-breaking. The present focus on stigma is important and will help to shift the shame from the survivors of the perpetrators.
However, although much progress on PSVI has been made, this initiative is still work in progress. It is a marathon, not a sprint. Change will come about only through sustained, long-term work: we need to keep going.
I will pick a few areas where I think attention is particularly needed. Current conflict, as we have already heard, disproportionately affects women. Security needs to be tailored to the most vulnerable. The impact of conflict on women was recognised 16 years ago with the adoption of UN Resolution 1325, with its four pillars of protection, prevention, participation and relief and recovery. Yet women in war-torn countries remain mostly ignored, despite research showing that where women are included the likelihood of achieving peace is much higher. One only has to look at the Syrian peace process where, in spite of women demanding to be included, they are sidelined. Until women are allowed around the table as equals it will be impossible to achieve peace and security for all.
Secondly, since 2006, under UN Resolution 1325 the UK has had a national action plan on women, peace and security in which it outlines its commitments. PSVI remains a major part of the UK’s women, peace and security commitments. Commitments made as part of PSVI should sit within the UK NAP on women, peace and security. The new NAP will be developed over the coming year and I very much hope that the plans for PSVI for the coming three to five years will be comprehensively outlined in it, along with the Government’s other women, peace and security commitments. This will support PSVI in becoming a sustainable long-term programme of work.
Thirdly, in some countries there is a taboo about women talking to men outside their families, which makes it impossible for male soldiers to communicate directly with them. Yet speaking to women in communities is vital if they are to be protected properly. Thus, any peacekeeping force must contain women, and to achieve this the UN must have concrete targets on including women in peacekeeping operations and must create a formal mechanism that ensures female peacekeepers are deployed to engage with local communities. The UK holds the lead on women, peace and security at the UN, so I very much hope that it will do all it can to influence this.
The PSVI is a shining example of where Britain is giving inspiring leadership in the world, and I am of course delighted with the Government’s response that they are keeping the initiative at the top of the internal political agenda. Recent reports of mounting atrocities in South Sudan and of UN peacekeepers standing by while government and non-government troops rape and kill illustrates all too clearly that there is still much work to do to ensure that—hopefully in the not too distant future—sexual violence in conflict will become as unacceptable as slavery, torture and genocide are today.
My Lords, I declare my interest as in the Register of Lords’ Interests. As it is late, I shall take just one or two parts of the committee’s report, as my colleagues who have spoken before me quite rightly mentioned them.
First, I thank the House for having agreed to have a Select Committee into sexual violence in conflict. Although the issues and what we listened to from witnesses and saw in videos and other means were difficult, I enjoyed being on the committee with all my colleagues and clerks, and the great advice we received from Professor Chinkin and her colleagues at the LSE.
I want to talk about the Institute for Women, Peace and Security at Georgetown and the Centre for Women, Peace and Security at the LSE. The reason why those two institutions are so important, along with the work and the report of the committee, is that it is right to have women at every peace table on these issues. At present, we are told that no women are trained and that they cannot find local women. We can always find them. At Georgetown and the LSE women come to speak to tell us and the students who are learning to be peacekeepers what it is like. The women are there. We in this Chamber could give lists of them.
I have one big ask for the Minister—I know she has been asked for a number of things from others, whom I agree with—that the Government will not agree to any peacekeeping talks without local women and other women being at the peace table. We know in Angola and other places that the first thing peacekeepers did was forgave the men, and there were no proper dealings on the peace. What happens? The peace is broken. Statistics show that when the women are at the peace table, as in Northern Ireland or Chile, peace has been kept and things have continued.
Why do we need women at the peace table? First, it is about the long-term medical support for men, women and children. Then it is about education—and not just basic education. To keep peace, we have to have higher education. Part of the peacekeeping has to reach outside higher education, if it is not possible to have universities opened. If we do not educate boys and girls we will have a period of terrorism because of greed and because people do not know what to do. Also it is about rebuilding communities. We have to get investment from outside as we were able to do with the Good Friday peace agreement, which I hope will be able to be continued, and with other peacekeeping agreements. That is why women ask for this. Women do not wish their boys and girls to be terrorists any longer—and that is what happens. If we do not have proper peacekeeping arrangements around the table, in writing, we are not going to get the peace. At the moment, we have more displaced people than at any other time in the world, and there are more so-called peace agreements being made—but they are not really being made. I am not attacking anybody, but I refer to the whole question of Syria. It is just disgraceful that we cannot bring the two sides together. We know that if the right people were there, that could happen. It is important that we have women at the peace table.
I hope that we can get an undertaking tonight from the Minister, who gave an undertaking in her evidence, that the Government will not participate in and will challenge any peace-table arrangements that do not have women. As we saw happen around Bosnia—and we had evidence—the peacekeeping and the peace table was done too quickly. There was not enough time to live with those who have to live with what is made up. People are people, and they have to live with whatever agreements are made about them, which is why we have to have women there—both from outside and local women. It is important.
The whole question of mass rape applies not only to women but to boys and men. I hope very much that DfID will continue with its investment over the next X years to look at why this happens and what it does to men and boys. We heard evidence that it is bad enough for us as women, but for men and boys it has a terrible effect. I hope that the money in DfID that has been pledged will continue to be there, and we have to watch that that happens, and that the DfID programmes, working with the Ministry of Defence, continue and are joined up with the Foreign Office. Can the Minister tell us tonight that they will continue? We have been reading and hearing from civil servants that there could be major changes with the DfID budget, and we do not want to lose that budget. The work that we are asking them to do can be measured—we know that nothing is without measurement—but time has to be given for measurements. Can the Minister speak to those departments, to help them to understand that this is vital to world peace, that we are the leaders in this field and that the Government will continue with this? If not, it will be very difficult. We have buy-in across the political divide on this issue, which is why we can continue with this work. We have to be the world leader. We have started to be the world leader. The Minister is now leading this on our behalf. We have to take other countries with us. I hope that Australia might come forward. Canada is another country that could. It is really important that we bring other countries to the table besides the United States.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the chairman and the members of the committee on the breadth of this report. I also congratulate the Government, who have responded to the problem in such a positive way, especially since the conference called by the noble Lord, Lord Hague, that was attended by Angelina Jolie two years ago. What was remarkable about that conference was that the general public were allowed in—and it was mobbed. I have never experienced anything like it; to see great queues snaking along, waiting to go into a booth where a junior Minister was talking about something was quite unprecedented. It made me think that we ought to have something like that every year, to get the public in and involved in these issues. It was tremendous and I congratulate the noble Lord.
On a personal note, I was disappointed not to be a member of this committee. After 30 years working in the National Health Service as a doctor in sexual and reproductive health; as a parliamentarian working in international development for 20 years now; and as chair of the All-Party Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health for many years I was, to put it mildly, a bit miffed. I was told by the then Chairman of Committees, Lord Sewel, that this was because I do not belong to a formal political group in this House. So there is the reason: rules is rules and one must obey. However, I am delighted to have this opportunity to make a few points of my own.
The committee’s report mentioned that it was looking forward to the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul last May. I attended that conference and noted that the commitments to action at the end stated that we must: prevent and end conflict; uphold norms that safeguard humanity; leave no one behind; change people’s lives; manage risks and crises differently; invest in humanity and in particular women and girls. They got there in the end. Investing in women and girls is so important, even though it was last on the list.
From the same conference we learned that, of the 125 million people in need of humanitarian assistance worldwide, over 75% are women and children. Globally, 35% of women have suffered from gender-based violence and this increases significantly during conflict. In my experience, it is difficult to collect figures. Whatever the policy and legal framework discussed in chapter 2 of the report, we ultimately rely on women reporting the violence in the first place and many are reluctant to do this, for cultural and family reasons. However, there is no doubt. I have listened in confidence to women in many places, including Rwanda, South Sudan, Colombia, Kosovo and the Middle East and heard of the horrific crimes committed, which the chairman told the House about. It is the prevention of these crimes and dealing with the consequences, as dealt with in chapter 3, which I want to dwell upon.
Rape in conflict situations is a first step in genocide—impregnate the enemy’s women with your seed and that will dilute the enemy’s genes. Way back in 1998-99, when I was first in the Commons, Tess Kingham, MP for Gloucester, and I argued this and were ridiculed. At that time it was thought a bit of a joke and we were going too far. Rape is not always straightforward sexual intercourse either. As we have heard from the chairman, rifle butts and broken bottles can be deployed and cause the most terrible injuries. The question of how soldiers, when ordered to rape captive women, actually manage to do it to order has always slightly puzzled me. I have heard claims from NGOs and other people who have worked in this field that soldiers in some groups are forced to take mood-enhancing drugs and also, more recently, Viagra, before going on to systematic rape of captive women. I would have hoped that the committee could have looked into this too. Maybe we can in the future, because it must surely be against some rule of war or other for this to be allowed.
As has been mentioned, refugee camps are terrifying places for women, often because toilet facilities are poor or shared, making women vulnerable to attack on their way there and back. In the camps in Jordan which I visited, I heard of child marriage getting younger and younger, often to total strangers, in the girls families’ efforts to protect their daughters from rape in the camps. Too early marriage also causes its own horrific injuries, so it is to be deplored. Women and girls are in desperate need of healthcare as a result of all these horrors. I was a little disappointed that the recommendations in chapter 4 of the report did not emphasise this more as it is a passion of mine.
Treatment for infections and injury, of course, combined with immediate access to post-coital contraception and abortion are of paramount importance. Paragraph 57 in the recommendations in chapter 5 is to be commended for its support for abortion after rape in conflict, which is a recognised human right. The noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, went into that in great detail. I thank her for that. The committee also recognised that the Helms amendment by the United States Administration is contrary to international human rights law. This causes great confusion in the field because some NGOs are not allowed to provide abortion to victims because of the USA rulings. As the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, said, funds are often pooled to provide this service, and therefore the service is prevented in some peculiar way because of the USA contribution. We really must look at this. Will the Minister please tell us what steps the Government are taking with the United States Administration to get them to remove this obstruction to simple humanity? Perhaps after the presidential elections things may change, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Hague, mentioned—we must keep our fingers crossed.
I commend the report for its recommendations on stigma attached to these crimes, in paragraph 63 onwards, not forgetting men and boys but also not forgetting the LGBTI groups in this, who have not been mentioned before. People with disabilities and those from different ethnic groups are also mentioned. There needs to be massive education of boys and girls in many communities. I suppose that education generally is ultimately the answer.
Recommendation 73 points out that the United Nations does not have responsibility for internally displaced people, of whom there are many at the moment, particularly in the Middle East. I ask the Minister when our Government will approach the United Nations on this problem.
Finally, and most importantly for me, I ask the Minister to confirm that funding for women and girls will continue as it is now, including for NGOs such as the International Planned Parenthood Federation, Marie Stopes International and the United Nations Population Fund—funding which was so welcome at the family planning summit in 2014. I am afraid that the new Secretary of State has been making rather worrying noises about changing the method, and even the amount, of funding in this area. That, for me, is very worrying indeed, as it is for all of us working in this field. NGOs like these provide vital services for women who have been violated in conflict situations. The need for sexual and reproductive health services is increasing all the time worldwide. They have been shown to provide such benefits to women and the economies of the countries where they live. Therefore, it would be a tragedy if this brilliant initiative taken originally by the coalition Government were weakened in any way.
My Lords, it was a great honour to serve on the Select Committee, whose task was to shine a light on an issue of huge global importance, but which was for far too long almost a secret swept under the carpet until the PSVI changed all that. I join others in paying tribute to the leadership of my noble friend Lady Nicholson, who, as we have heard, guided the committee through a vast array of information, sources, witnesses and locations with huge dexterity and skill. We owe her a great deal for that, as indeed we do to the indefatigable secretariat which serviced the committee with energy, dedication and attention to detail. This is an enormous subject, and a very difficult one, and between them, the chair, the advisers and the officials helped to bring order to it and make it accessible. I believe that our report, and the testimony of the excellent witnesses we heard from, will prove a powerful contribution to debate not just here but, I hope, across the globe. I draw attention to my interests in the subject listed in the annex to the report and declare them accordingly.
The major issue I would like to highlight from the report is the spotlight it shines on sexual violence against men and boys—for although the clear majority of sexual violence in conflict is perpetrated against women and girls, these crimes are indiscriminate and men and boys are greatly affected too, as a number of noble Lords have pointed out. Indeed, sexual violence against men and boys has been recorded in 25 armed conflicts over the last decade. We know that the problem is significant and pervasive, but little comprehensive data exist. Indeed, our report makes clear the importance of finding out much more about the numbers of men and boys affected by these crimes. In many ways they have been the forgotten victims of this heinous crime, and we need to change that.
One of the key objectives of PSVI since its launch, as my noble friend Lord Hague made clear, has been to raise awareness of men and boys as victims as well as perpetrators. That has been a ground-breaking initiative which I strongly applaud. However, the evidence we heard shows that there is more to be done, and although DfID, as the report makes clear, has done admirable work to combat violence against women and girls, ending sexual violence against men and boys must be a priority too. We noted, for instance, that it was regrettable that DfID did not do more to raise the status of this issue in its approach to the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul in May.
This is particularly important because of the stark and appalling legal situation in which men and boys who are victims of sexual violence find themselves. We heard striking evidence from Dr Chris Dolan, director of the Refugee Law Project in Uganda, about how they face huge barriers to accessing support and justice. Around 70 countries do not recognise male victims, meaning that 90% of men in conflict-affected countries are in situations where the law provides them with absolutely no protection if they become victims of sexual violence. Of those countries affected, 67 actually criminalise men who report abuse against themselves. Apart from the terrible stigma this creates, on which I will say a few words in a moment, it makes provision of healthcare, social support, economic support and access to justice almost impossible.
What can be done? To begin with, men and boys should be covered far more comprehensively in the Government’s research activities, not least because the true scale of such crimes is masked by the legal barriers I spoke of just now. We need much more data to assess the scale of the problem so that measures can be taken effectively to tackle it, particularly so that much more can be done to hold perpetrators accountable and end impunity for sexual violence. Long-term, sustainable research is vital in this area.
Another area where we need a more proactive approach is in access to justice, which is perhaps the most important requirement for the recovery of the victims of these terrible crimes. Sexual violence fractures lives and families. The journey to recovery is a complex one, and as our report makes clear, it,
“depends greatly on the individual victim and survivor’s situation and needs”.
Access to justice will always be the most central part of that. Yet for men and boys, getting justice—and seeing that justice is done—is well-nigh impossible when they incriminate themselves by reporting a crime.
The same is true of access to vital health services. As male victims of sexual violence are in most places omitted from the mainstream narrative on wartime sexual violence, policy responses—and indeed information for victims—consistently fail adequately to address, or most often ignore entirely, the specific needs of male survivors. We heard from leading psychologist Dr Michael Korzinski about a study of 4,000 NGOs across the world that deal with wartime sexual violence, which found that only 3% mentioned men and boys in their information materials. Much more could be done to make sure that these NGOs highlight male victims in their literature and publicity material, with advice specifically tailored to their needs.
Another area where progress can be made is with the team of experts, which is a key mechanism for our efforts on capacity building for national judicial systems. Although its membership is small in number, the work of the ToE is of real importance. However, at the moment it is clear—as we heard in evidence from War Child UK—that members have not received any child safeguarding or protection training, including responding to sexual violence against men and boys. We recommended that such training should be mandatory. In their response to us, the Government said that expertise on men and boys exists within the ToE, but I think that we need to look closely at how that expertise is used and whether it is sufficient, particularly in view of the scale of some of the problems that we have identified.
One of the overriding problems in dealing with sexual violence against men and boys—as with all victims, as we have heard—is stigma. We heard a great deal of distressing evidence on this issue and our report has much to say about it. It is not a matter with which the UK alone can deal but we can show the way. For instance, much more can be done if we seek proactively to help organisations and associations which undertake outreach mechanisms and which, in the words of the Refugee Law Project,
“sensitise communities regarding the existence of male survivors”.
Finally, I want to highlight the particular problems of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities—highlighted by the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge—in dealing with sexual violence in conflict. LGBT people are, tragically, particularly vulnerable to these hateful crimes. We heard, for instance, from Professor Lisa Davis how “epidemic levels” of sexual violence and murder had been committed against LGBT persons in the Daesh conflict, while Human Rights Watch highlighted these serious threats in Iraq and Syria. These victims face, in effect, a double stigma: being victims and being members of the LGBT community. This is of course compounded by the fact that, in many countries which have been the scenes of conflict and violence, homosexuality is criminalised. These include places such as Angola, Somalia, Liberia, Eritrea, Sri Lanka, South Sudan and Afghanistan, among many others—shamefully, far too many of them in our own back yard of the Commonwealth.
Therefore, for obvious reasons, we have huge gaps in our knowledge of the impact of sexual violence in conflict on LGBT communities. More needs to be done to identify the specific needs of these communities and the best way to address them. We were not able to look into criminalisation but it is a vital aspect of the problems faced by many minority communities. The Government have, to their real credit, done a huge amount in recent years to bring pressure to bear on the countries that criminalise to bring an end to this horror, and the Minister has been at the forefront of those initiatives. I pay a huge tribute to her and to my noble friend Lady Verma for all the work they are doing. Will my noble friend reiterate the Government’s determination to continue that vital work, particularly in the Commonwealth, where criminalisation flouts the terms of the Commonwealth charter, as well as international human rights laws, not least, in this context, because of the impact on so many deeply vulnerable victims of sexual violence?
That is a long-term goal, and indeed a lot of what we covered in our report is also for the long term. However, I emphasise that we should remember that, for many, the long term is too late. As my noble friend Lady Nicholson said, although a great deal of what we were able to look at related to historic crimes—dating back, for instance, to Bosnia-Herzegovina—the horror of sexual violence in conflict is with us right now. These crimes are being perpetrated, even as we debate this evening, in Iraq and Syria, and there is a need for immediate action to alleviate suffering, as well as a long-term strategy for tackling this horror.
This report, I believe, provides ideas and proposals in a wide range of areas which will help us meet those ambitions, and I am very pleased that the Government have been able to welcome much of it. I know that I and all my colleagues on the committee will look forward to working with my noble friend to do what we can to bring this hateful war crime to an end, to gain justice for those who have been affected, and to bring help and support to those still suffering in the midst of horror.
My Lords, I was not a member of this Select Committee but I should like to thank all noble Lords who were for such a comprehensive report on an extremely important subject. I was particularly pleased to see that the report included references to Colombia, as I have a particular interest in that part of the world. It is often overlooked, although it has to be said that in the last couple of weeks we have seen a probably unprecedented amount of media coverage of Colombia following the rejection of the peace deal by less than 1% in the referendum there. We are also shortly to receive the Nobel Peace Prize-wining President Santos on a state visit to the UK, so my remarks this evening will focus just on Colombia. I endorse the points made by my noble friend Lady Young of Hornsey and will expand on some of them.
In Colombia, sexual violence has been a hidden, widespread and systematic practice perpetrated by all armed actors in the internal conflict—the guerrilla groups, paramilitary units and the state security forces. Of the cases documented, the worst offenders of conflict sexual violence are the paramilitary groups, followed by the security forces and then the guerrilla groups. FARC policies of forced contraception and forced abortion for their rank-and-file troops were a normalised form of violence. They also forcibly recruited girls as combatants in order to render sexual services and as a payment to protect other members of their family.
The impact of the state security forces’ involvement in sexual violence has had a particularly devastating effect as they are, of course, responsible for protecting the civilian population. When sexual violence is committed by the security forces, civilians are left with no authority to whom they can turn for justice.
As we know, and as my noble friend Lady Young has also mentioned, the Colombian Government have been involved for the past four years in peace talks with the largest of Colombia’s guerrilla groups, the FARC. Colombian women’s organisations and victims’ organisations went to Havana to discuss the issue. Women human rights defenders also went and spoke directly to the negotiators on various occasions to ensure that they understood that women would not accept amnesty for conflict-related sexual violence. This was accepted by the parties and the final agreement excluded conflict-related sexual violence from any amnesty.
As a result, the Colombian Government appointed a special unit in the public prosecutor’s office to investigate the crimes of conflict-related sexual violence. This was a major step forward, but serious concerns are already being expressed by civil society organisations such as ABColombia, to whom I express my sincere thanks for all the background briefing and up-to-the-minute reports it has been sending me. The concern is that the investigators in this unit are focusing only on crimes committed by the FARC, and while this is a positive step in the right direction, there is also a pressing need to ensure that sexual violence by the security forces is also prioritised and scrutinised.
I ask the Minister what discussions Her Majesty’s Government have had with the Colombians about progress on investigating conflict-related sexual violence specifically carried out by the security forces. The building of civil society’s trust in the security forces is clearly essential after any internal conflict, and to leave these crimes in impunity would leave many Colombian women without truth, without justice and without reparation, and would certainly weaken the process of peace-building in Colombia, which is still continuing despite the setback of the referendum.
The progress achieved in the peace agreement on this particular issue was impressive. Following a good deal of pressure, the state, in November 2013, finally appointed two women negotiators. It also established a gender sub-commission which reviewed all aspects of the agreements to ensure that they all contained a gender perspective. The gender sub-commission was made up of women from both sides of the negotiating table, with expert advice from women’s civil society organisations. The core aspect of the agreement was to exclude conflict sexual violence crimes from amnesties. As we know, the peace accord signed in September was then sadly and extremely narrowly rejected in the 2 October referendum. But talks continue and women’s organisations are extremely concerned to ensure that their achievements are not dismantled and that conflict sexual violence is not amnestied in any potential reformulation of the peace agreement.
This is a crucial issue for Colombian women and I ask the Minister to ensure that the British embassy in Bogota supports women’s NGOs in their efforts to ensure that this aspect of the agreement is not weakened. President Santos will be in the UK at the beginning of November on his state visit and I urge the Government to ensure that he meets with NGOs working on human rights in Colombia, and particularly those NGOs working on the issue of conflict sexual violence. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s assurance on this point.
My Lords, like many Members who have spoken, I attended the global summit in 2014, convened by my noble friend Lord Hague. I attended a seminar hosted by the charity War Child. There our host, who led the proceedings, was a very impressive, well-spoken, British young lady. She began by sharing the fact she was born on Christmas Day 1992. I could see that people were flicking through the pages of the agenda and checking their emails. I confess I was one of them. She continued, “That was in Sarajevo in Bosnia during the war. My mother had been subjected to repeated sexual violence in a concentration camp. I was the result of this”.
She later went on to explain how her mother said she could not bear to hold her when she cried. “She wanted to strangle me,” she told others later, “so much was the trauma that lived on so long after the violence had passed”. She then explained how she had been adopted by a wonderful couple of British journalists who raised and educated her here in the UK.
As she sat down there was stunned silence. I remember thinking why that was. We had heard that all these things had happened; we had seen the videos and read the reports. That was why we were there: because we wanted to do something about it. Perhaps it was that we felt not just sympathy, but empathy with her, because this was someone who could have been our daughter, our sister, our granddaughter. It seemed to personalise the crime in a way we had not anticipated, but it also showed how sexual violence in war is a different category of crime that reached into future generations to destroy lives.
Moreover, where some victims of conflict—especially those involved in military organisations—may be regarded as heroes when they are injured, with sexual violence there is an insidious stigma and shame that perversely and bewilderingly falls on the victims rather than the perpetrators, as so many have said. Surely the first step to changing behaviour is therefore to ensure the perpetrators are labelled with cowardice and shame for such acts, and that victims and survivors are given the support they need to rebuild their broken lives.
This is why it is so important that this report has been prepared. I pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Nicholson, to all members of the committee for the thorough work they have done, and to my noble friend Lord Hague for courageously bringing this out of the shadows and shining a light on it to the international community. I also recognise the immense and ongoing work in this area by my noble friend the Minister, who is the Prime Minister’s special representative on preventing sexual violence.
I have just three comments or questions that I hope may add in some way to an outstanding report and to the encouraging response from the Government that we are debating this evening. First, it is very clear from the moving testimony of survivors in chapter 8 of the report the importance they attached to being able to talk openly about their feelings on what had happened to them and to overcoming the misplaced stigma, shame and so-called victim-blaming that often accompanies these crimes. The Department for International Development has done some important work on this, yet paragraph 82 of the Government’s response suggests that such services should be provided on a voluntary basis and only through informed consent. That raises a question as to how people were able to receive information to allow them to make an informed statement about consent and access to such services. I wonder whether my noble friend the Minister could say something on that, not in the winding-up speech, but perhaps in a letter following the debate.
Secondly, there is a need for justice to be done and to be seen to be done. The recent prosecution of the Congolese MLC leader Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo at the International Criminal Court in March was a major step forward. Interestingly, the committee focused on one particular country—Iraq—to ask the Government to urge it to accede to the Rome statute, which the Government say they will do. But why stop there? What about the three permanent members of the UN Security Council—Russia, China and the United States—which have yet to ratify the Rome statute? What about other major influential states such as Turkey, India and Saudi Arabia? Should not pressure be placed on them, too? The best hope for reducing the level of violence is to have international systems of agreed laws with agreed justice systems to uphold them. It is deeply disappointing that countries are prepared to sign up to UN Security Council Resolutions 1325, 1820, 1888, 2242 and 2272 condemning sexual violence in conflict and then to withhold support from the very institution charged by the UN with investigating and upholding them.
The report sets out for the Government the clear and bold long-term aim of ridding the world of the scourge of sexual violence in conflict, yet surely the best way to stop war crimes is to stop war, under whose dark cover such acts are carried out: to end the scourge of sexual violence in conflict by ending the scourge of violence in conflict itself. Instead of spending our time picking up the pieces of broken lives, we can do more to help keep them intact. The preamble to the Charter of the United Nations, presented to its first General Assembly across the road from us in Methodist Central Hall, sets out the determination,
“to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war … and … to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women … and … to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations … can be maintained”.
As the noble Lord, Lord Hague, said, we have all the words and the protocols—we even have the institutions—but the question is: do we have the will?
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to your Lordships’ House for allowing me to make a short contribution. I failed miserably to put my name down in time for this important debate, so I shall put just two or three succinct points to my noble friend the Minister. However, I want to start by thanking the committee, so ably chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, for its work in gathering at times harrowing evidence and witness statements for your Lordships’ House. More importantly still, the report highlights the work that needs to be done.
I want also to put on record my gratitude to the Minister, who has demonstrated her personal commitment, as well as that of the Government, to ensuring that this crucial area is seen not as an “add-on”, as my noble friend Lord Hague put it, but as a cross-government initiative to make sure that all departments understand and sign up to the need to tackle this scourge of impunity, as my noble friend Lady Helic said, on behalf of innocent victims. When I was a Minister at the Department for International Development, I spoke to many victims. I can say categorically that peace will come only when we put victims—those people who understand what is needed—at the heart of decision-making.
I want to ask the Minister two questions. First, how are the Government monitoring the safety and security of women and girls, boys and men, in camps that we are helping to support through government funding? It is fine to have canvas tents and food, but for the security of those using washrooms and accessing services is there adequate lighting and proper vetting? Are these things in place to protect people in such camps? In many camps, those people who are supposed to be protecting are actually the perpetrators of these heinous crimes.
Secondly, and as rightly raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, will the Minister reassure us that there will be no reduction in support for programmes which help women and girls in conflict areas access proper legal, medical and psychological support? Can she assure the House that this support will not be sacrificed, with the focus shifted away from humanitarian and development aid, in the context that it has been under the last Government and currently this one before recent changes, or will it suddenly be tied up with just aid for trade? If we are going to make economies stronger, I ask my noble friend the Minister to make sure that they are not sacrificed because of victims who have no voices in these conflicts.
My Lords, as another non-member of the committee, I congratulate it on the report. I congratulate all those who have advanced and are advancing work on this issue such as, of course, the Minister and her predecessors concerned in government with it. I knew the word “tireless” would be used. That is perhaps appropriate but actually, if you analyse it, it is a very odd word because I am sure that the people who do this work must get very tired.
I need to declare an interest. One of the committee’s witnesses, already mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Black, was Dr Michael Korzinski, a psychologist and psycho-social expert who has been deployed twice to Bosnia as part of a team of experts. He is also co-author of a training module for judges, prosecutors and others on wartime sexual violence, developed with the support of the UK Government. As a friend, I have been aware of his work and talked to his colleagues about it as well. This has of course informed my thinking.
I want to say a word about the PSVI teams of experts. Multidisciplinary teamwork is a productive way of working in most fields and it is often productive to transfer knowledge between fields. Perhaps marginal to this debate but not to the big picture, I wonder how much learning, particularly with regard to support for survivors and witnesses, has been made available within this country to those engaged in work on sexual abuse, including and perhaps particularly trafficking, and vice versa. It is essential in both situations to understand why, for instance, a victim did not struggle or how his or her memory and recall are affected by trauma. That is relevant to how evidence may be gathered and to how a witness presents in court. As all those involved in the criminal justice system need to understand, what a witness says in response to a question may not be what a witness thinks. Indeed, the witness may not know what he or she thinks.
Noble Lords will know how important it is to capture the experience of those who work on the front line. I welcome the Government’s agreement to explore how to strengthen mechanisms for feedback from teams of expert members and to apply this to policy-making and disseminate it. There is a lot of scope for this and I urge the Government to pursue it. It is probably the cheapest and easiest recommendation in the whole report. I also welcome the Government’s encouragement of our embassies and high commissions,
“to think more ambitiously and creatively about how they may use the ToE’s expertise”.
The very nature of trauma requires an integrated approach. I understand from a lawyer recently a member of such a team that the teams currently generally comprise lawyers and gender experts but no trauma experts. An integrated approach and a sustained commitment to those concerns is required. The whole system needs to be attuned to it. I include in this not just victims. I already mentioned the range of people involved in criminal justice systems. They come from the same communities so it is more than a matter of the women or men who are victims knowing their own perpetrators—something to which the right reverend Prelate alluded. Witness support officers need to understand the impact on victims, and their own reactions; so do those working in the so often underresourced but pivotal local organisations. Relentless exposure to the horrors takes its toll. The lawyers need support and training.
Rape in conflict is not new. It was not new when it was widely used in the conflicts of the previous century. If its use is in part because of the concept of women as property, that is hard-wired—as old as the hills, maybe, but that is not to be defeatist; wiring can be changed—but so is the response hard-wired, which is why it is such a powerful tactic. It humiliates, as has been said. It undermines morale, as well as being used as a form of ethnic cleansing. My noble friend Lady Tonge called it a step towards genocide. Stigma and ostracism are not accidental outcomes, and I was struck by the observation of the noble Lord, Lord Bates, that those who are injured in different ways in war are often regarded as heroes.
Of course, support has to be culturally appropriate. If a survivor is to be supported and empowered to give the best evidence and not to be re-victimised or re-traumatised, it is critical to appreciate how his or her culture shapes the presentation. Our understanding of the neurobiology of trauma is also critical. That may sound like cutting-edge understanding, but the application may seem quite homespun. For example, a group of women in Afghanistan could not articulate their experiences and so could not access appropriate medical help—until they focused on something quite different. They sat together knitting, and gradually they began to be able to articulate it and to start the journey to recovery. That work was led by a team which understood trauma.
I have one more story as a proxy for all those who are stigmatised. A woman, who I know is not alone in her experience, was in her home city of Aleppo at a friend’s house when she got news that her home had been hit by a bomb. Distraught, she rushed out, forgetting to cover her head. Because of this “transgression”, she was raped and was then disowned by her husband. She was assaulted by the very people she thought were there to protect her and her children, who witnessed the assault. Long-term support following such experiences is a very real requirement.
I do not for a moment dismiss the experiences of men and boys, but women and girls who have been in such situations, who have lost family through war, who are themselves very vulnerable, and who find themselves bread-winners, need practical support. I will end with something that is part of the support landscape—not the end of the story but one thing that can be done. I was cheered to hear that DfID is engaged in setting up skills training for women refugees in the Middle East. This is support and prevention.
I have deliberately confined my remarks to something rather low-level, perhaps, in a topic which is very broad and deep, as the report and the debate have illustrated, but that says to me that the depth of expertise and determination that is required is also very great.
My Lords, I, too, thank the chair and all noble Lords who served on the committee for their work in maintaining the public profile of this vital subject. I also express my appreciation for the noble Lord, Lord Hague, whose work as Foreign Secretary was critical in raising the profile of this issue on the international stage. I also pay tribute to the Minister, in her role of special representative on preventing sexual violence in conflict, for continuing this vital work. I also welcome back the noble Lord, Lord Bates, who in his period of leave of absence raised £250,000 for UNICEF—so congratulations to him.
The critical issue in this debate flows from the committee’s recommendation: how do we maintain momentum—not a word I like using particularly, but it is important—and ensure that we have the tools, sufficient resource and the political will? That is the key issue arising from the committee’s report. As we have heard in tonight’s debate, we must be tough not only on the crime but on its causes. We must tackle the underlying problem of a lack of empowerment, education and inclusion. The World Bank report found that apart from lack of education and a limited awareness of their rights, the main reason that women do not seek help is a perception that violence is normal and somehow justified. As we have heard, it remains the case that women are often too embarrassed and stigmatised to seek redress.
As the committee’s report identifies, there remain grave problems with impunity in conflict-affected states. This reinforces and reflects the widespread social convention that serves to marginalise women. As we have heard, the UN recently reported evidence of conflict-related sexual violence occurring in 19 countries —clear enough evidence that it is not restricted to a particular place. It is endemic in warfare and needs to be tackled with the utmost vigour. A comprehensive approach is essential, including tackling and targeting the underlying gendered norms and behaviour that cause and perpetuate sexual violence. Just addressing stigma and prosecutions, as the Government are currently doing, will not prevent sexual violence in conflict. We need to address the gendered and social norms that cause such violence, so will the Government commit to a more comprehensive approach that works to genuinely and fully prevent sexual violence in conflict, including addressing the root causes?
In her introduction to the Government’s response to the report, the Minister reminded us that she had visited a number of conflict and post-conflict countries over the last year, promoting PSVI and encouraging greater progress in its implementation. It would be helpful to know from the Minister tonight whether she could identify those countries where she felt that most progress had been made and which factors were influencing that progress.
The noble Lord, Lord Hague, highlighted the words of the Government’s strategic defence and security review of November 2015, which stated:
“The full attainment of political, social and economic rights for women is one of the greatest prizes of the 21st century, and central to greater peace and stability overseas”.
Yet over the past 25 years, as we have heard, only one in 40 peace treaty signatories has been a woman, while between 1990 and 2010 only 12 out of 585 peace accords referred to women’s needs in rehabilitation or reconstruction.
The Government’s stated determination to ensure that in,
“all future UK-hosted peace-building events, we will identify women involved in the conflict and shine a torch on them to make sure their voices are heard”,
is extremely welcome. However, to make real progress, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, highlighted, we need: concrete targets on increasing women in peace operations; a formal mechanism for peacekeepers to connect with NGOs and organisations representing women’s rights; a commitment to resourcing gender analysis among peacekeeping operations to understand what local women are experiencing; and accountability for crimes by peacekeepers.
Your Lordships’ Select Committee’s report identified the lack of a mechanism to record and report on PSVI commitments as a serious concern with the initiative and the resulting work. Does the Minister not accept that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, said, the UK national action plan on women, peace and security is the natural place for these commitments to be recorded and reported on, particularly given the annual report to Parliament and the long-term nature of the national action plan?
The UK will be developing its new national action plan in the coming 12 months. Will the Minister commit to integrating PSVI fully into the new national action plan, including its future work priorities and programmes? The noble Baroness, Lady Verma, spoke on one of the recommendations covering the value of PSVI work across Whitehall departments: DfID, the MoD, the Home Office and other departments. With the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, leaving the Government, will the Minister tell us who is covering the role of ministerial champion across these departments? I know that the Minister is currently undertaking a number of posts, but it would be a good idea to have some indication that there will be a champion who will be committed in the longer term within government across Whitehall departments.
Your Lordships’ committee urged the MoD to publish its military policies on WPS and its incorporation into military doctrine. There was an indication in the Government’s response that MoD officials were working on this and that it would be published in the autumn. I have not been able to trace any publication or publication date. Perhaps the Minister can inform us on this.
As we heard in the debate, sexual violence against men and boys has been reported in 25 armed conflicts over the past decade. I note from their response to the report that ending such sexual violence is a priority for the Government and is encompassed within their wider efforts to tackle sexual and gender-based violence. As the noble Lord, Lord Black, highlighted, the Government understand that tackling the root causes of this violence is key to its prevention. In their response, the Government acknowledge that people who face discrimination on the grounds of gender, age, sexuality, disability, ethnicity or other characteristics can be more vulnerable to sexual violence and may experience its impact differently. That is why, as my noble friend Lady Goudie said, DfID’s funding of a major research programme on sexuality, poverty and law at the IDS is so important and vital. How will the Minister ensure that this work stream feeds into her role in championing the rights of the global LGBTI community? Will she tell us a bit more about progress in promoting decriminalisation, particularly, as the noble Lord, Lord Black, said, in Commonwealth countries? Has she had an opportunity to discuss this issue with the new Secretary-General? I know that it is a longer-term objective, but we need to understand the Government’s strategy in trying to achieve it. It clearly impacts on the level of sexual violence in conflict.
The final issue I will address is funding. As my noble friend Lady Kinnock said, a short-term approach has never prevented the awful crimes that we have seen committed in conflict. PSVI has been continuously funding short-term projects. Sometimes the implementation period has been less than a year. If we are going to tackle sexual violence, it needs to be with strong, funded organisations, particularly women’s organisations, on the ground. The work and the organisations need to be properly funded: they cannot rely simply on short-term, annual funding. Will the Minister commit to multiyear funding? Will she also commit to ensuring that funding reaches civil society organisations and women’s rights organisations?
I conclude with the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson:
“Victory against this dreadful crime … can be achieved, but not without full commitment, a clear strategy and appropriate resources—we must ensure they are delivered”.
My Lords, I add my thanks to my noble friend Lady Nicholson for her expert chairmanship of the Select Committee and to members of the committee for their report and the opportunity we have to debate it tonight. In opening, my noble friend set out graphically the horrors experienced by those who are victims, but whom we also wish to assist to become survivors, of the appalling assaults upon them.
I am also delighted that my noble friends Lord Hague and Lady Helic have taken part in this debate, since it was they who put the preventing sexual violence in conflict initiative on such very firm foundations, gaining international support which endures to this day. I will say more in a moment about the funding and stress the fact that this initiative will endure.
Sexual violence in conflict harms individuals and harms societies. Stigma and impunity prevent survivors from seeking justice and communities from achieving reconciliation. The Government agree with the Select Committee’s view that sexual violence in conflict,
“must not, under any circumstances, be overlooked or condoned … it must be eradicated”.
That is why ending sexual violence in conflict remains an important government priority. It is also a personal priority for me, as the Prime Minister’s special representative on this issue. I make it clear that when the Prime Minister spoke to me on the weekend of 16 and 17 July, she asked me to be her personal representative, as I had been for David Cameron, to take up the cudgels on ending violence against women and girls, and to ensure that there would be no hiatus in that work, including when a new Minister may be appointed full-time to DfID. I gladly gave that commitment.
Since the launch of the PSVI, the UK has committed over £30 million to support projects in Bosnia, Colombia, the DRC, Iraq, Kosovo, Nepal and many other countries. That has delivered real impact. Each department has a different approach to how long projects may have their allocation of funding. One always has to look at what the impact of that funding is; sometimes, one can extend it. Recently in the FCO, we made sure that one particular pot of money—if I can call it that rather broadly—can now provide funding for two years instead of one. We have to be agile in the way that we approach funding.
Funding is not just from the FCO and the different streams there. It also comes from the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund, where significant funding is now available for PSVI and for eradicating violence against women and girls. Noble Lords concentrated on DfID, and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for DfID has made it clear today that she will keep the 0.7% funding which we have already committed to in our manifesto and that she expects all the funding at DfID to be spent. It will be spent well, which is what she is trying to present to the world. We will make sure that the spending DfID commits to, as with that from the FCO and other departments, will go to deliver real results.
I expect the multilateral aid review to be published relatively soon. Although, as one knows with language here, that means I cannot give the exact date, it will give further information about funding. Funding is not only the right thing to do with regard to PSVI, it is the right thing because it provides greater stability. That has been the message from noble Lords today, which is why I hope that any Government would want to continue that funding. It is the impact it has on the stability of governance that is so striking.
In the DRC we will continue to fund counselling for survivors and training for faith leaders. We have already trained over 17,000 military and police personnel on sexual violence issues, including 10,000 troops from the African Union Mission to Somalia and almost 6,000 members of the Peshmerga. We plan to continue to fund that work.
Our team of PSVI experts has been referred to quite a lot this evening, which I am pleased to hear. It has been deployed overseas more than 80 times in places as diverse as the Syrian border, Iraq, the DRC, Libya, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mali and Kosovo. The experts have provided and will continue to provide vital training to human rights activists, healthcare professionals, members of the judiciary and the military. The training covers how to document and prosecute crimes of sexual violence, how to support survivors and how to protect civilians from human rights violations. I assure my noble friend Lady Helic and others that we will continue our support for the TOE and develop its use further.
We have launched the first ever international protocol on the documentation and investigation of sexual violence in conflict, which has become the benchmark for best practice in this field. It is the key to ending impunity and ensuring greater accountability. Its accessibility is being expanded now through new translations: it is available in 10 languages including Arabic, Bosnian, Burmese, Kurdish, Serbian and Swahili. We are now revising the protocol to make sure that we have new guidance on male and child survivors and to make it easier to use. I assure my noble friend Lord Black and the noble Lord, Lord Collins, that we look very carefully at the needs of men and boys as well as those of women and girls. They are right to point out that those in the LGBTI community, and those who are not but who are assaulted because they are men and boys, sometimes have great difficulty reporting it because of the criminalisation of male sexual activity. That is something that we very much take to heart. The revision process for the protocol is due to be completed by early next year.
Initiatives, projects and protocols are all very well, but the impact of our work can be understood only when, as so many noble Lords have described today, one meets those who have survived sexual violence and hears from them directly how help to them can change their lives. Since my appointment as the Prime Minister’s special representative, I have travelled to many parts of the world afflicted by sexual violence. I have met survivors whose courage is shaming and knows no bounds. In Nigeria I met members of the Bring Back Our Girls group, campaigning for the return of the 276 Chibok girls kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014. As the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, encouraged us in this House at Question Time, we must never forget them and never give up. Even if those girls are released or escaped, their suffering will not end there, as often they are treated with suspicion. The stigma that they face robs them of the support that they need and steals away their hope for the future. We must do our best to put that right, and through our funding in Nigeria we do just that. In Bosnia and Herzegovina I met women who, 20 years after the abuses took place, still have not been able to talk about them to their husbands, families or friends, yet I found they were prepared to share their stories with me, a complete stranger. It showed me how important it was for their experiences to be heard and their suffering recognised.
Reference has been made on several occasions today to Colombia. It is very much in our minds because of the peace agreement with FARC that has been rejected in a referendum. I know we all wish that country well and hope that peace may yet be formally found but that in the mean time it may be kept by FARC, the Government and paramilitaries.
I assure the House that our embassy in Bogota is helping to amplify the voice of survivors and to help them in their communities across every region of Colombia, because noble Lords are right to point out that it is not merely a matter of the FARC; paramilitaries also carry out violent attacks. Our embassy there is working to address the problem of how the media stereotype the victims of sexual violence. We will continue our support for that work in Colombia, and I undertake to carry forward the suggestion that when President Santos is in the UK in November, he may be able to find time in his very heavy schedule to make contact with NGOs. If not, I undertake to see what we can do on that in Colombia itself. I know that he takes to heart human rights: I have heard him say that in front of me in this House.
In the DRC, to which many noble Lords referred, I met a courageous young woman who told me she had been raped and tortured. When she looked to her family for support, they shunned her because of the stigma of rape. Despite the terrible trauma she had suffered, it was with the support of her local church and other faiths that this young woman went on to become a teacher. I am proud of the support we are able to give to organisations which maximise the co-operation of faith groups—organisations such as Tearfund. I am also grateful to those who provide healthcare, organisations such as HEAL Africa in Goma. More recently, I met Dr Mukwege, and praised him for his work. They not only literally rebuild communities, they rebuild victims’ bodies, but we also need to rebuild their minds because of the trauma they face.
My noble friend Lady Verma and the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, were right to remind us how important it is that we work together to ensure the safety of those who are IDPs or in refugee camps. We do that through some of the programmes we fund which are delivered by both UN agencies and NGOs. I visited one such project on the outskirts of Irbil in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq. Recently, when I was in Geneva, I was able to discuss the issue of safety of refugees when I met the High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi.
Stories of communities turning their backs on survivors are sadly not at all uncommon. The work we can do is vital to remove that stigma, because stigma not only prolongs survivors’ suffering, it can delay reconciliation and threaten stability in an already fragile community. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, and my noble friend Lord Black referred to the importance of looking at the causes of stigma, and considering the decriminalisation of same-sex relations. That is essential worldwide, including in the Commonwealth. I assure the noble Lords that I have been discussing this during the whole of the Summer Recess, when I have been travelling overseas but also here in London, with representatives of countries which still criminalise these activities. We must work towards decriminalisation.
I have been trying to set out why stigma remains one of the greatest barriers that we need to face and why my priority now is to address stigma. I am determined to change the harmful attitudes, the cultural and social norms, which cause stigma—to go to the root cause, as noble Lords have asked. I continue to take our message on stigma to countries affected by sexual violence. Very shortly, I hope to visit Burma and Sri Lanka on these matters.
Understanding the challenges in different countries is the first step. We are indeed continuing to hold workshops in Colombia, the DRC, Iraq, Kosovo and Nepal, and planning others in Somalia and Nigeria. We know that the best way to achieve our goals is by involving as many local groups and organisations as possible, so these workshops will bring together survivors, community leaders, media representatives, legal experts, Governments and others. With the findings of these workshops, together with information shared by civil society and our international partners, we will then draw up an action plan.
An expert-led conference at Wilton Park in late November will take this work forward. The conference will also help to ensure that UK support, such as the PSVI team of experts and project funding, is better targeted and uses our network of 18 PSVI champion countries more effectively. It is essential that we work together and work for the future.
The noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, and one or two others raised the issue of healthcare, and particularly the matter of abortion. Perhaps I can give a little information about DfID policy on this. Due to the time I shall try to be brief. DfID policy is that in countries where abortion is permitted, we can indeed support programmes that make safe abortion more accessible. We can do that, and we do. We can also help make the consequences of unsafe abortion more widely understood and can consider supporting processes of legal and policy reform. I would be very happy to discuss that matter further in more detail because, obviously, it depends on countries and needs.
I thank the Minister for giving way. Before she leaves the subject of abortion could she please address the problem of the USA and the Helms amendment and say whether the Government will put any pressure on perhaps the new Administration there to change this?
My Lords, I am not going to get drawn into who might win. I will make a decision once we know what the result is and we see what their priorities are. I can say that as a result of the discussions on the sustainable development goals and the inclusion of a goal with regard to women and their safety, it is important around the world that women’s health is put very much at the front of any policy-making with regard to assisting the survivors of violence. Indeed, women’s health is vital anyway. I very much appreciate the words of my noble friend Lord Hague about the empowerment of women. That goes to the heart of it. He got it absolutely right.
I was asked in particular about the Istanbul convention by my noble friend Lady Helic, and I am thinking of the international work that we do. I am raising that matter later this week with the Home Office when I attend the cross-departmental group on violence against women and girls. I understand that there are one or two residual issues on which we need legislation, so I shall be pressing hard and I shall use her voice to help me to do that.
As noble Lords have said tonight, the whole point is that those who survive need to feel that they are seeing justice, however they define that. Survivors define it in so many different ways. They need to know that the perpetrators will be held to account. They need to know that justice has a long memory and a long arm and that one day it will come knocking on their door. I give an undertaking now that not only am I working on that but the Foreign Secretary has made it crystal clear at the United Nations General Assembly that he is determined to do that too. We also need to ensure that, when tackling the perpetrators, we do not exclude members of peacekeeping forces, because they must not exercise sexual exploitation and abuse either. The current UNSG has made it clear that there is zero tolerance. I have not yet managed to speak to Antonio Guterres, who was named as the successor last Friday. He takes over in January. Certainly from his previous utterings, I would expect him to have the same view.
Reference has been made to the training of security personnel and the importance of the role of women in peacekeeping. When we responded to the report we made it clear that in,
“arranging all future UK-hosted peace-building events, we will identify women involved in the conflict and shine a torch on them to make sure their voices are heard. We will promote the active participation of women in such discussions through political and/or financial support”.
We will continue to do that. We will maintain that commitment.
I conclude by again thanking members of the committee for their report, and all those who contributed to the debate. In answer to many points made, this is not just me and not just the Foreign Office—it is a matter of working across all departments in government. We face tremendous challenges, but they are the challenges that need to be faced. We cannot do it alone; we need to do it together, internationally, and this Government must maintain the lead set by my noble friends. We embrace challenging ambitions—but, my goodness, we owe it to the victims and survivors to carry them through. My father always used to say, “There’s no such word as ‘can’t’—it’s ‘won’t’”. I won’t say “won’t”; I will say “I will”.
I thank the Minister immensely for her rich and robust reply, which has given us much to work on in partnership. Across your Lordships’ House this evening, there has been a complete singularity of purpose. Therefore, in partnership we can do a whole lot more. The noble Lord, Lord Hague of Richmond, started off by saying, “Let’s do something”. Now, let us do something more—that is the next step. I thank the Minister and everyone who has spoken. I look forward to the next round. We have an APPG meeting next Wednesday, where we will launch a campaign.
House adjourned at 10.06 pm.