Breaking the culture of impunity for militant groups such as Islamic State which use rape as a weapon of war is the priority for Britain’s new special representative on preventing sexual violence in conflict.
Britain is working with local organisations in Syria and Iraq to help victims of sexual violence document their ordeal in a manner that can stand up as evidence in court to bring the perpetrators to justice, Joyce Anelay said.
Anelay was appointed to the role in June to replace former British foreign secretary William Hague, who last summer hosted the world’s first global summit on sexual violence in conflict in London alongside Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie.
“Success will be measured by enabling victims to speak out and helping them to become survivors, supporting projects which work to change legislation, and … to change attitudes towards sexual violence,” Anelay said.
An international protocol was established last year to investigate sex crimes, collect evidence and prosecute perpetrators, following a 2013 declaration, now signed by 150 countries, pledging to provide justice and safety for victims.
The guidelines established at last year’s summit include advice on gathering testimonies from survivors and witnesses, and guidance on photographing, filming and sketching crime scenes, as well as the collection of physical evidence.
The summit drew criticism from newspaper The Observer, which said the cost of hosting the event was five times higher than Britain’s budget for tackling rape in warzones this year.
Anelay rejected the claim in a letter to the newspaper, and said the Foreign Office had awarded 6 million pounds ($9.3 million) to preventing sexual violence in conflict this year – more than the reported 5.2 million pounds cost of the summit.
VICTIMS OF ISLAMIC STATE
The British government is also training military forces like Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga fighters in how to support rape victims, and working with non-governmental organisations that encourage militant groups to respect international humanitarian law.
“(Some of these) projects are risky, of course, but it is more of a risk to do nothing at all,” Anelay said.
Anelay spoke to the Thomson Reuters Foundation a week after Prime Minister David Cameron said he wanted Britain to do more to help the United States destroy Islamic State in Syria, and confront the ideology of extremism promoted by militant groups.
Thousands of women and girls have been abducted, raped and sold into sexual slavery by Islamic State since the militant group declared a caliphate across swathes of Syria and Iraq last summer, according to the United Nations and rights groups.
Armed rebel groups are using sexual violence more than government-controlled groups in what is a “catastrophic” new trend in war zones, the U.N. expert on sexual violence and conflict said earlier this year.
“The brutal, vile and inhuman regime of Islamic State seeks to destroy life as we know it, and the brutality of what they do leaves behind victims who must feel that they have no future,” Anelay said.
While Britain’s priority is supporting victims of sexual violence in Syria and Iraq, the government is also working with victims in historic conflicts, including Bosnia and Kosovo, she said.
Thousands of women and girls are believed to have been raped or subjected to sexual violence during Kosovo’s 1998-99 war, and up to 35,000 women and girls during the 1992-95 Bosnian war.
Anelay recalled the account of a rape victim in Kosovo who was gang raped, sodomised and tortured in front of her children in her home by soldiers during the war.
“After two days of being gang raped, she begged them again and again to kill her. They refused because they wanted her sentence to be a life sentence, to carry on living this hell.”
Aid has helped to establish refuge centres where women who have been spurned by their families due to the stigma surrounding rape can earn a living, and back campaigns to change legislation to compensate survivors of rape in conflict.
Croatia and Bosnia have issued landmark rulings in recent months granting compensation to wartime rape victims for the first time, and Kosovo passed a law in 2014 that made victims eligible for compensation, yet the benefits have yet to defined.
“Compensation matters because it signifies that the victims who suffered these horrific events are believed, that what they went through is recognised rather than ignored,” Anelay said. ($1 = 0.6449 pounds)
(Thomson Reuters Foundation)