THE Bishop of Derby, Dr Alastair Redfern, has thrown his weight behind a House of Lords report that chastises the Government for allowing the campaign to eradicate sexual violence in conflict to lose momentum.
Dr Redfern was a member of the committee that produced the report, published on Tuesday. He said that it had been “harrowing” to meet victims and learn about the trauma and stigma they experienced.
“The report makes practical suggestions for our Government, and for many other agencies, to recognise the enormity of this crime, and to begin appropriate steps to challenge the perpetrators and reach out to the victims,” he said.
The peers commend the Government for leading international work on combatting sexual violence in war, which was spearheaded by the former Foreign Secretary Lord Hague of Richmond and Angelina Jolie (News, 13 June 2014).
The report says that much more needs to be done to ensure the issue, which is believed to afflict currently at least 19 countries, remains high on the international community’s agenda.
The Government must publish a five-year plan for how it will achieve its objectives, and annually report back to parliament detailing its progress, the report recommends.
It should also increase its funding for the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) prosecutors, to ensure that those in political and military command over troops committing war crimes do not escape justice.
“For far too long sexual violence has been regarded as just one of those things that occurs when there is conflict. It is not; it is a war crime which must not, under any circumstances, be overlooked or condoned,” the report states.
This was not just a scourge that governments can eliminate, Dr Redfern said — Christians can play their part, too. “The Churches have a key role to play in situations of conflict in this whole area,” he said.
The Government was also urged to improve the training in preventing sexual violence that it offers to the UK’s armed forces. Currently, all soldiers receive this training before an oversea deployment, but all new recruits should be educated too, the peers recommend.
The problem of UN peacekeepers’ committing sexual violence has not been tackled properly, the report concludes. A new tribunal should be set up by the UN to ensure accountability for crimes committed by peacekeepers, and the next secretary-general must place this issue at the top of their agenda.
“The Government should give further attention to the particular circumstances of victims of conflict-related sexual violence among those claiming asylum in the UK,” the report also says. Although changes are under way to ensure that the asylum process is more sensitive to victims of sexual violence, it is not being rolled out fast enough, the report says.
Another particular area of concern for the committee was the battle against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. While it was clear that the militant group had to be defeated militarily before the sexual abuse within its territory could be stopped, the report says, the Government should pressurise Iraq to allow the ICC to prosecute cases committed under its jurisdiction. Currently Iraq is not a member of the Court.