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Summit hears of church help for sexual-violence survivors

13 June 2014


Platform: Angelina Jolie address the summit, on Tuesday 

Platform: Angelina Jolie address the summit, on Tuesday 

THE Archbishop of Canterbury has told the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, which took place in London this week, that churches were picking up the pieces after rape in war zones.

Speaking by video message, Archbishop Welby told delegates of a recent visit to the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. What had happened to people was "breathtakingly terrible", but what the churches and NGOs were doing was "extraordinary".

"The churches are the main bulwark against this brutalisation," he said. "They love the women who come to them for help. They show them love and human dignity. Through wonderful organisations like HEAL Africa, they treat their physical injuries."

Archbishop Welby said that faith leaders were challenging the culture of impunity that existed in many war zones, besides promoting equality between the sexes.

The summit was opened by the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, and the Hollywood star Angelina Jolie. It ran from Tuesday to Friday, and brought together hundreds of politicians, activists, and survivors to discuss how to tackle the scourge and stigma of sexual violence. 

Speaking at the opening to the summit, Ms Jolie, a special envoy to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said that she wanted to dedicate the summit to one rape victim she had met in Bosnia. "She felt that having had no justice for her particular crime . . . and having seen the actual man who raped her on the streets free, she really felt abandoned by the world. This day is for her."

Mr Hague announced a further £6 million in government funding for programmes to combat sexual violence, and said that he hoped other nations would pledge more money.

"We began campaigning two years ago, because we believe the time has come to end the use of rape in war, once and for all," he said.

"What would it say about Britain, if, knowing all of this, we chose not to act? This week we are bringing together governments, experts, civil society, survivors, and members of the public in an unprecedented concentration of effort and attention on this issue."

On Thursday, representatives from 117 countries met to try to agree on international protocols on the investigation and prosecution of sexual violence during war.

A meeting with Nigeria and other African nations was also organised to discuss how to defeat Boko Haram, the extremist Islamist group that kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls from northern Nigeria in April (News, 2 May).

Alongside the ministerial discussions, a vibrant conference fringe was taking place - filled with photo exhibitions, live theatre, round-table debates, stalls selling produce made by survivors, and a silent cinema.

Watch Archbishop Welby's message in full below:

Message for rapists: 'We will get you'

The Experts Day of the summit began on Wednesday with a session chaired by Baroness Warsi, Minister for Faith and Communities, by Tim Wyatt.

She told the delegates that her hope was for the summit to act as a catalyst, and inspire concrete action to tackle sexual violence around the world. When working as a lawyer, she had represented many refugees from Bosnia who had fled the conflict and come to Britain, many of whom had been raped. "It was heartbreaking when they said they did not want you to tell anyone about it," she said. "You felt you were arguing for them with one hand tied behind your back.

"This summit can be so important - we can make sure that every survivor has their story told and has justice. The shame of this crime sits with the perpetrator, not the survivor."

Lady Warsi was then joined on the stage by the UN Special Representative for Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura. Ms Bangura welcomed delegates as her "brothers and sisters in the struggle", and told them that sexual violence had led to "history's greatest silence".

"Conflict-related rape can be no longer considered an inevitable by-product of war or mere collateral damage," she said. "It can no longer be amnestied as the price of peace or dismissed as a private matter. The women, girls, men, and boys affected can no longer be deemed second-class victims of a second-class crime."

There had been progress in recent years, she said. War-zone rape and its social cost was now properly understood as a significant security problem. "But there are still those around the world who doubt whether our words will carry consequences. Our message must reach them loud and clear: If you commit or condone sexual violence in conflict there will be no hiding place. Sooner or later, we will get you."

A video message from Hillary Clinton, expressing her support for the summit and its aims, was also played to the hall. Her successor as United States Secretary of State, John Kerry, was due to address the summit at its closing session on Friday. 

DRC report

Question of the week: Is sexual violence still a taboo subject at your church? 

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