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Rape and Sexual Violence in Conflict

Volume 716: debated on Tuesday 21 June 2022

9. What steps her Department is taking to help protect women and girls from the use of rape and sexual violence in conflict. (900628)

The use of rape and sexual violence in conflict is a war crime, and I have made tackling it a top priority. The UK is campaigning for it to be treated as a red line on a par with the use of chemical weapons. We will host a conference against sexual violence in November.

We have had terrible reports of rape and sexual assault by Russian troops in Ukraine. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure safe and effective evidence collection, so that those responsible can be held to account?

We have seen appalling reports of atrocities and the use of rape and sexual violence. We launched the Murad code earlier this year, which sets the global standard for safe evidence collecting. We have dispatched a team from the United Kingdom to the region to help with that evidence collection—by interviewing witnesses and survivors and preserving and collecting images and videos, for example.

Near Upper Committee Corridor there has been an exhibition in the last few days showing the experiences of young women and girls who have been raped and sexually abused in Myanmar, Syria and Nigeria. What the perpetrators of those awful crimes need is accountability. Can there be someone who will take the evidence and ensure those people know that some day they will go to prison, or even worse? They will receive that in the next world, but let us make sure they get it in this world.

Through the International Criminal Court and the work we are doing on evidence collecting, we are working to make sure that the people committing those appalling crimes are held to account—not just in Ukraine, but more widely around the world. That is one of the key aims of the conference we are hosting in November. We are also increasing our budget for women and girls development aid, specifically to tackle sexual violence.

I place on the record my deepest respect for and thanks to our wonderful development and diplomatic staff, who do a fantastic job in very difficult circumstances. I visited Afghanistan this month, which was truly heart-rending. It appears that my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) and I are the only British MPs to have visited. I wonder why the Foreign Secretary has failed to visit, one year since the fall of Kabul. She knows that protecting development gains for women in Afghanistan is fundamental, given that millions are facing starvation, new restrictions and the loss of livelihoods.

Rather than hosting a summit, maybe the Foreign Secretary can explain what she meant when she said that

“we are restoring the aid budget for women and girls back to its previous levels and we are also restoring the humanitarian aid budget.”—[Official Report, 8 March 2022; Vol. 710, c. 191.]

Given that she failed to give an oral statement to the House on her 10-year international development strategy, will she make a statement to the House on when she plans to reverse the £1.9 billion in aid cuts to women’s programming that have proven so damaging to women and girls and to our reputation abroad—or is she following the Prime Minister’s lead of chasing headlines and not delivering?

I utterly condemn the appalling actions of the Taliban in reversing women’s and girls’ rights. We are doing all we can together with our international counterparts, including hosting a pledging conference to secure more support for the people of Afghanistan. As I have said, we are restoring the women’s and girls’ budget back to £745 million a year, and we are also ensuring that the humanitarian budget is greater so that we can tackle these issues around the world.