Two weeks ago, the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict took place at the ExCel Centre in London. A summit that offered many options to learn about sexual violence issues around the globe: exhibitions, theatre and dancing performances, films screening, mock trials, and fringe events, with speakers from the leading NGOs, survivors of sexual violence and judges of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, amongst others. Overall, a great environment for dialogue, ideas, comments, sharing of best practice, awareness-raising for the general public and for decision-makers to include sexual violence in their agendas.
Aline and Lilliane came a long way from Democratic Republic of the Congo to attend the Summit. They were invited by MRG to share their experiences as Batwa women working for NGOs dedicated to women’s empowerment in North-Kivu. Batwa women have been a particularly vulnerable group in the many conflicts that have affected their country, where rape and other forms of sexual violence have been used as methods of war. Furthermore, on many occasions Batwa women have been abducted and forced to become sexual slaves for long periods of time.
Whilst accompanying Aline and Lilliane during the Summit events I realised how different our perspectives were. I was continually shocked by what I was hearing and outraged by the levels of sexual violence around the world (I was unaware of the extent this happens on a daily basis in so many countries), especially when Aline and Lilliane kept confirming all the information and adding details and numbers, as if it was a ‘normal thing’. Not that they accepted it, on the contrary; but they have to deal with it every day. Wandering around the exhibitions, they ran into many people from the DRC and other African countries who work in the same field, and discussed the necessity to raise awareness at a global level in order to solve the problem.
The Summit is a first step to putting this tricky issue on the world stage (even if only for a few days), aided of course by the presence of the UNHCR Special Envoy and celebrity Angelina Jolie, and UK Foreign Secretary William Hague. But it has also brought together others such as US Secretary of State John Kerry, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda or Dr Denis Mukwege, all of them committed to putting an end to sexual violence in conflict.
Regardless of the people ‘starring’ in the event, it provided an opportunity for the international community to talk about the problems linked to sexual violence in conflict, such as ending impunity for the perpetrators, providing support for victims in order to remove the stigma brought by the abuse, and how to come up with effective solutions with the collaboration and commitment of the international community.
For this Summit, legal experts presented the International Protocol on the Documentation and Investigation of Sexual Violence in Conflict. The Protocol is a tool aimed mainly at NGOs, lawyers and other people working with survivors of sexual violence. It seems like a good start, and is definitely a useful tool to fight impunity, but the problem of sexual abuse remains an all too common practice.
The catchphrase of the Summit was ‘Time to Act’. And it is indeed time to act; time for the international community to react and this Protocol is a start. In the words of Lilliane, ‘Education is the most powerful weapon with which we can fight this war against sexual violence.’
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