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Blackwood NicolaNicola
Blackwood is the Conservative MP for Oxford West & Abingdon. Co-Chair of the All
Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Women, Peace and Security and Vice
Chairman of APPG Great Lakes.

Women have been
raped in wars for thousands of years.  Howeverm recent times have seen not only a
dramatic increase in conflict-related sexual violence, but also horrific
examples systematically-deployed sexual violence as a means of intimidation and
ethnic cleansing. It is this that has caused Major-General Cammaert, the former UN
peacekeeping commander in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to say: ‘It is now more dangerous to
be a woman than a soldier in modern conflict.’  In that very year, 14,591
new cases of sexual violence were reported in the DRC: since 1998, it is
believed 200,000 Congolese women have been raped. As I heard for myself when I
met with rape victims Goma in 2011, there is still widespread sexual violence
in the DRC. We hear the same reports from Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan – to
name but a few.

The problem is not only what you might call ‘weaponised’ rape.  Amidst the social breakdown that accompanies
(and often precedes) conflict, domestic and sexual violence perpetrated by
non-military actors increases – and continues long after the actual bombs and bullets have
fallen silent. Brutalised by
conflict and mostly hidden from public view, these perpetrators prosper with
impunity. At times, they are actually protected by the law of the
land, as we saw in the case of the Somali woman who spoke of being gang-raped by state
security forces – and was sentenced to a year in prison, along with the journalist
who published the interview. Following international (including British) pressure,
her sentence has since been commuted, but the journalist remains imprisoned.


Victims often
have no recourse to any form of justice or medical care and, with a few notable
exceptions, are routinely denied any role in peace processes. The stigma of
sexual abuse is so great in some communities that even when family members are
made to watch their ten year-old daughters being raped in their Darfuri primary
school, they don’t tell anyone or discuss
it between themselves afterwards – let alone try to get help or protest against
the injustice. None the less, some very brave activists – such as Ikhlass Mohammed, who I have met – risk their lives to call for justice for
victims and to hold their governments to account. 

Even in Britain, we
wrestle with the difficulties inherent in investigating and prosecuting sexual
offences.  But in most conflict-affected states, in which victims are unable to
access effective medical, criminal justice, witness protection or forsensic
services, there is little if any deterrent against sexual violence.  This matters
not just because of the untold suffering to the victim (man, woman or child),
but because these abuses destabilise whole communities, creating dangerous
cycles of resentment and retaliation, which themselves cause and perpetuate conflict. Until
we see sexual violence in conflict as a security threat, as well as a
humanitarian concern, we will not achieve our conflict prevention and stabilisation
goals.

At the moment,
protecting the vulnerable is consistently the worst-funded sector of
humanitarian response, and reducing the chances of sexual violence is often the
last consideration of the emergency response teams. Even when it is considered,
there is a shortage of expertise in
the field to implement effective programmes – because, for too long, the issue has not been a priority.  This isn't
surprising: donors are more comfortable giving food or tents than thinking
about rape in war.  However, this needs to change if we want to prevent the suffering
and instability that sexual violence is causing.

It is therefore
greatly welcome that Justine Greening, the International Development Secretary,
has promised to convene a summit in the autumn bringing together the UN, humanitarian
agencies and donor ministries together to make further commitments to prevent
and respond to violence against women. I am proud that
our Government, led by William Hague, made preventing sexual violence in
conflict a priority for this year’s G8 foreign ministers’ meeting – a first in G8 history. In doing so, he not only rejected the myth that
rape in war in inevitable, but also set out a clear set of practical
measures to meet his challenge. Crucially, he is not just calling for new
funding, but also for specific commitments to steps designed to increase
prosecutions and end the current impunity of perpetrators; to support victims
to recover and seek justice, and to protect the activists who are working
to improve the rights of victims in their own countries. 

International
leaders and NGOs, such as CARE International UK, have
welcomed the initiative, pointing out that sexual violence has been treated as an
inevitable consequence of conflict for too long, and practical strategies to
address it have often been absent, inadequate or ineffective. Well,
William Hague has set out just such a strategy. It is a strategy that will
ensure that money is spent building capacity of countries themselves to tackle
sexual violence – through empowering survivors to seek justice and supporting
local activists to hold their governments to account. This is the only way to
turn a near-silent crisis into a noisy protest, and place the long term
responsibility for the enforcement of ending sexual violence exactly where it
should be – with the states themselves.

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