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Survivors of Sexual Violence Deserve More Than Just Talk

LONDON, Jun 13 2014 (IPS) - “States must make concrete commitments to enable and protect women human rights defenders, so that they can safely and securely carry out their work in support of victims of sexual and gender-based violence,” Amnesty International told the Global Summit on Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict that wound up Friday in London.  “The commitments made during the summit need to be implemented quickly and with adequate resources. The survivors deserve more than empty talk,” said Stephanie Barbour, head of Amnesty International’s Centre for International Justice.

UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie and U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague, hosts of the three-day summit, were joined by several hundred experts, NGOs and government ministers in London, while events were held in several locations around the world to raise awareness.

The summit featured a wide range of artistic creations, film screenings, musical acts and theatrical performances surrounding the experiences of women and men, girls and boys who suffer sexual violence in war.

One of the initiatives launched in London was a network for connecting survivors’ voices to global leaders, bridging the gap between activists on the ground and policymakers at a high level.

“UN Women stands ready to support the international community in delivering on the promise of reparations as a means for substantive change in the lives of women and men, boys and girls affected by conflict and to reflect the needs of victims for both courtroom justice as well as comprehensive redress” – UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Malmbo-Ngcuka

The network, known as Survivors United for Action, is the first-ever global network of sexual violence survivors focused on rape and gender violence in conflict. It is supported and funded by The International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict.

The question of how to support survivors was an important focus of the Summit, especially how to alter the culture of stigma that often surrounds them. UNHCR chief Antonio Guterres spoke of “a culture gap, an impunity gap, and a support for survivors gap.”

Among others, he expressed the need for a less male-dominated culture in international organisations, governments, judicial systems and armed forces.

For its part, the United Nations released guidelines on Reparations for Conflict-Related Sexual Violence, advocating a gender-sensitive focus for reparations after conflict.

“Reparations are routinely left out of peace negotiations or sidelined in funding priorities, even though they are of the utmost importance to survivors,” said UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Malmbo-Ngcuka.

“Stronger action is the need of the hour, and sexual violence in conflict is a front line concern for us,” said Mlambo-Ngcuka. “UN Women stands ready to support the international community in delivering on the promise of reparations as a means for substantive change in the lives of women and men, boys and girls affected by conflict and to reflect the needs of victims for both courtroom justice as well as comprehensive redress.”

“We need to move this agenda forward in order to ensure real change in the lives of survivors who have seen the horrors of sexual violence in conflict up close.”

Addressing the summit, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said: “Sexual violence in conflict is one of the most persistent injustices imaginable.”

“There is no place for it in the civilised world,” remarked Kerry, as he reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to end the practice with a pledge of funds for new programmes aimed at tackling impunity, and called for a rejection of peace agreements which provide amnesty for rape.

The U.K. government used the summit to launch its International Protocol on the Documentation and Investigation of Sexual Violence in Conflict. The document provides a best practice for those involved in recording evidence of sexual violence occurring in conflict, to better enable prosecutions to be brought and survivors to be helped.

“We hope this protocol will be part of a new global effort to shatter this culture of impunity, helping survivors and deterring people from committing these crimes in the first place,” William Hague wrote in the foreword to the document.

IPS spoke to Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury, former Under-Secretary General for the United Nations, who in the year 2000 was involved with instigating Security Council Resolution 1325, a key international legal document requiring member states in conflict to respect women’s rights and support their participation in peace negotiations and reconstruction after war.

Chowdhury emphasised the importance of including women in peace negotiations and in political discourse to achieve peace and development. “Women play a very key role in promoting the peace process,” he said.

“I have seen everywhere how women contribute not only to the lessening of conflict and reduction of tension in their own communities, but also to the economic and social development of their countries. To them, peace and development is a life and death struggle.”

Chowdhury described the difficulty of generating political will on issues such as the promotion of women’s engagement in politics. “Still only 46 of the 193 member states have completed a national plan to implement Resolution 1325,” he said.

Resolution 1325 requires equal participation of women at all decision-making levels.

William Hague closed the summit by putting pressure on governments to bring more women to negotiating tables and onto parliamentary benches.

“It is clear from this summit that we can bring together a whole army of people from around the globe, united in the common vision of putting an end to sexual violence in conflict. Now that this army has been put together, it will not be disbanded, it will go on to success,” he said.

“When we succeed in the future in returning to peace negotiations in Syria, there is no excuse for them not including the full participation of women.”

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