Faith leaders to tackle sexual violence in conflict

27th Feb 2015

Panel at Mobilising Faith Communities in Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict Event

Ahmed J Versi

PM’s Special Rep on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict, William Hague, Angelina Jolie Pit and Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, opened an international inter-faith meeting on sexual violence in conflict on February 9.

Faith leaders from over 20 countries who met in London discussed the role of faith communities in ending the use of rape as a weapon of war.

The meeting examined how faith leaders can challenge harmful cultural attitudes and practices, care for survivors and those who have been affected by sexual violence and engage with civil society, governments and human rights defenders to ensure survivors and their communities receive the practical and spiritual support they need.

Hague urged faith leaders to play their part in changing the defeatist attitudes towards sexual violence in conflict “It is a problem created by men that can be solved by men and women acting together,” said Hague.

“Overcoming pessimism, changing behaviour, raising awareness, and transforming attitudes towards women – these things are all central to our mission, and you have a vital role to play.”

“I have always deeply admired the unquenchable determination to succeed in a moral and humanitarian cause that religion has often inspired, from the abolition of slavery to the humanitarian campaigns of today.

“You often have unparalleled experience of working in and among and with local communities, and working with the grain of human nature.

“As such, you are often trusted and impartial witnesses to the crimes that affect civilians on all sides in conflict, as well as the first point of call for assistance for many survivors.”

Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative Co-Founder Envoy, Jolie Pitt, described testimony of survivors of rape she met in northern Iraq, and set out ways leaders of all faiths can fight against those who use rape as a weapon of war, saying “our most powerful assets are not our armies but our values.”

Jolie Pitt called for an end to impunity, saying that “for all our advances, the mass rape of women, children, and men in conflict is still seldom punished, and still carries little or no risk to the perpetrator. This state of impunity is simply intolerable, and it causes incredible suffering for survivors.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury said sexual violence “has always been a feature of conflict. But it is becoming more and more systematic, more and more deliberate, and the level of impunity has increased.”

We have to challenge conflict itself – the chaos of war that makes impunity seem acceptable. Perpetrators of rape need to know they will never escape the consequences of what they have done. And we must end the silence and the stigmatisation of survivors,” he added.

In April 2013, G8 Foreign Ministers endorsed the first international Declaration of Commitment to Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict. This was the first time that the Foreign Ministers of some of the world’s most powerful nations formally recognised sexual violence in conflict as a vital issue of international peace and security, not simply as a humanitarian concern.

Archbishop of Democratic Republic of Congo, Henri Isingona, told The Muslim News that sexual violence has been used to terrorise women. “This was the way to dominate people and make them fear them,” he said. The Archbishop added that the Christians and Muslims are working together to bring justice for the victims of sexual violence. “In the past the Churches did not speak out about sexual violence out of fear.”

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