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Sexual Violence in Conflict

Volume 798: debated on Wednesday 12 June 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the level of support among United Nations Member States for the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2467 on sexual violence in conflict, and of progress in the Ending Sexual and Gender-based Violence in Humanitarian Crises Conference in Oslo on 23 and 24 May.

My Lords, UN Security Council Resolution 2467 was adopted in April, with 13 votes in favour and two abstentions. The UK deeply regretted that language recognising the need for comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services was not included. I represented the UK at the Oslo conference and the momentum was clear: more than 100 Governments and other organisations made commitments to help end sexual and gender-based violence in humanitarian crises. The UK will continue this momentum by hosting the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative international conference in November.

I thank the Minister for that response. Of course, I pay tribute to the UK’s role in ensuring that efforts to address this issue internationally are centre stage. I also welcome our presence at the Oslo conference and the fact that we made a new commitment to fund the tackling of violence against women and girls in Syria. Can the Minister outline how we will turn the PSVI conference into more than just an awareness-training session? Bearing in mind the fact that only 0.12% of the total humanitarian funding goes to tackling gender-based violence, can she tell us more about how we will do something to fund extra work and encourage others to do likewise?

My Lords, as the noble Lord said, in Oslo I announced UK political commitments which included improving access to life-saving sexual and reproductive health services and £7 million of additional funding to support the UNFPA to tackle sexual and gender-based violence in Syria. The Oslo conference saw commitments of a very large amount of funding—$363 million—and hundreds of political commitments. The noble Lord is quite right that it is vital that we keep up momentum. It is also vital that we continue to demonstrate the UK’s strong leadership on this issue. The PSVI conference in November is an excellent opportunity to ensure that we and our international partners do that.

My Lords, I pay tribute to the work of my noble friend the Minister and the Government, as well as the work led internationally by Members of this House, including my noble friends Lord Hague and Lady Helic. Will my noble friend explain whether victims’ voices will be central to the PSVI conference? Specifically, is she familiar with the UN report on sexual violence in Kashmir? Will she assure me that Kashmiri victims of sexual violence will be heard at the PSVI conference?

My Lords, my noble friend is right to pay tribute to the many voices across the Chamber who contribute to this important debate. Sadly, rape and other forms of sexual violence are still being used as weapons of war in conflicts the world over. The UK, together with our international partners, is working to end this horror. The PSVI conference in November is going to be survivor-centred. I heard some testimony from victims of abuse in Oslo; it is incredibly important that the survivors’ voices are heard, not just telling their stories but being involved in the policy debates and informing the next steps.

My Lords, Resolution 2467 and the Oslo conference both highlighted the importance of addressing the long-term trauma that victims face, as well as the stigmatisation of sexual violence survivors and their families within their communities. I ask the Minister: how does DfID programming address these issues?

The noble Baroness is quite right to address the issue of stigma and the long-term effect that this terrible violence can have on women. Through our programmes at DfID, we are working with our multilateral partners and in our country programmes to address this issue. Recently, we have developed our What Works to Prevent Violence programme, which has shown real improvements in addressing the root causes of violence, and we will continue to expand our work in that area.

My Lords, I have just returned from Dohuk in northern Iraq, where more than 300,000 Yazidis are still living in IDP camps, and where thousands of women and young boys have returned from kidnapping and slavery—which involved sexual violence. What action are the Government taking, not only to provide psychological support and other services for the individuals and families living in these camps but, much more importantly, with the Iraqi Government to ensure that someday the Yazidis can return home to Sinjar?

My Lords, the Government are supportive of efforts in Iraq to strengthen justice and hold perpetrators to account, and to allow returns. We have contributed to the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, which supports projects in Iraq that seek to address and reduce violence. We are also at the forefront of ensuring accountability for the well-documented crimes, and we champion the resolution at the UN Security Council. Indeed, we have a UK QC leading the investigating team in Iraq.

While congratulating the British Government and the Minister for the tremendous work that the FCO has undertaken on sexual violence after and during conflict, might she be willing to think about pushing the issue further forward with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association? At last year’s gathering here, I had the opportunity to present the PSVI, as the FCO has it, to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association delegations. If we could get it into those parliaments, and every single parliament was supporting it, it would have a true long-term impact on this unbelievably beastly issue.

Of course, it is important that we work with all our international partners on this. The UK, rightly, is speaking of this regularly, but we must ensure that it is on everybody’s agenda too. My noble friend’s suggestion of working more closely with our Commonwealth partners is a very good one, which I will take forward ahead of the PSVI conference.

My Lords, can the Minister tell us whether UK aid still provides for abortions for women who have been raped in conflict? Can she also confirm that the United Kingdom recognises that international law on these matters overrides the national law of the country in these situations?

My Lords, the UK is committed to empowering women and girls to choose whether and when they have children, giving them greater control over their lives. In humanitarian crisis situations, as the noble Baroness highlights, that is more important than ever. It is our view that in situations of armed conflict or occupation, where the denial of abortion threatens a woman’s life or causes unbearable suffering, international humanitarian law principles may justify offering a safe abortion, rather than perpetuating what amounts to inhumane treatment.