A DECLARATION condemning sexual violence in conflict and pledging support for survivors, launched this week, is a way for faith leaders to “shape the sort of world we want to see”, the Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, has said.
The Declaration of humanity by leaders of faith and leaders of belief was published on Tuesday by the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative, which is run by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. It was launched by the Minister of State for the Commonwealth and United Nations, and special representative on preventing sexual violence in conflict, Lord Ahmad, to encourage faith groups around the world to help end such forms of violence in their communities.
The latest UN Security Council report says that, in the past decade, 65 parties (50 non-state actors and 15 state actors) have been listed as perpetrating systematic sexual violence across 11 countries. Campaigners have highlighted the continuing suffering of victims through the stigmatisation of both them and any children born as a result of sexual violence. Some of the countries where this has been most prevalent are the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, and eastern Ukraine.
The Archbishop of Canterbury said on Twitter on Tuesday: “Sexual violence in conflict is a terrible, scarring issue. The Declaration of Humanity is an important step towards ending it. As we honour the dignity and courage of survivors, let us stop at nothing to protect the God-given humanity of every person.”
Faith leaders who have pledged their support for the declaration include Bishop Treweek; the director for gender justice for the Anglican Communion Council, Mandy Marshall; the chair of the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board, Qari Muhammad Asim; the general secretary of the Hindu Council UK, Rajnish Kashyap; and the Coptic Orthodox Archbishop of London, Archbishop Angaelos.
The Foreign Office has said that the declaration has had support in countries that include Iraq, Kosovo, Sri Lanka, and Sierra Leone, as well as the Vatican.
The declaration condemns “all acts of conflict-related sexual violence towards any person, at any time, and in any circumstance, and will encourage those under our care and others in the community to do the same”.
Furthermore, it refutes the “stigma associated with survivors of conflict-related sexual violence and children born of conflict-related rape”, deploring “its use as a weapon that instigates the breakdown of families and communities”.
And it urges faith leaders to do all in their power to prevent conflict-related sexual violence, dismantle any interpretations of faith that might condone it, understand and support survivors, and encourage unity between survivors and their communities.
Speaking on Thursday, Bishop Treweek said that religious groups were too often part of the problem instead of the solution. “People are made in the image of God, and thus all acts of conflict-related sexual violence are violations against the dignity of human beings. Sadly, faith communities can be contributors to the acceptance of sexual violence and the stigma, which can lead to the rejection of girls and women within their own families and communities.
“What is hidden needs to be brought into the light, and my hope is that the declaration will challenge all faith leaders to speak out and not to collude with silence, or perpetuate teaching and misuse of religious texts which give abhorrent permission for people to hold the attitudes underlying sexual violence.
“Faith leaders need to use their voices to name the evils of sexual violence and to shape the sort of world we want to see, such that faith communities are places marked by love, justice, hope, and healing.”
The CEO of the charity Open Doors, Henrietta Blyth, also welcomed the declaration, calling it “an important milestone in recognising the vulnerabilities of both faith and gender”.
The declaration in full:
- condemn utterly all acts of conflict-related sexual violence towards any person, at any time, and in any circumstance, and will encourage those under our care and others in the community to do the same;
- affirm that all survivors of sexual violence in conflict, and children born of conflict-related rape are innocent, are of equal worth and value to all people. They are to be fully accepted, respected, and honoured;
- refute the stigma associated with survivors of conflict-related sexual violence and children born of conflict-related rape, and deplore its use as a weapon that instigates the breakdown of families and communities and we will oppose and condemn all symptoms of stigma in our communities;
- acknowledge and honour survivors’ independence, courage, hope and resilience, and the right to shape their own futures.
- do all in our power to prevent conflict-related sexual violence and protect all persons vulnerable to such violence, including marginalised minority groups and those of other faiths or beliefs, recognising that adherence to a faith or belief can itself result in additional vulnerability;
- work to dismantle harmful interpretations of faith or belief and harmful cultural norms that may be used to condone or commit acts of sexual violence;
- support the voices of survivors, stand for justice to prevent oppression, violence and false accusations, and speak out to defend survivors and their right to justice while holding accountable those who have perpetrated crimes;
- foster unity between survivors and their communities to support effectively their social integration and their economic and psychological development;
- seek to understand the experiences of survivors and their needs, taking care to avoid their retraumatisation;
- utilise media, religious discussions, educational materials, texts and all other platforms of our faith or belief community to empower survivors, recognising the resources of our community and that faith or belief can be a source of strength for survivors.