Prime Minister’s Special Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict visited DRC from 5 – 7 October 2015.
On 5 October, The Rt Hon. Baroness Anelay of St Johns formally presented the International Protocol on the documentation and investigation of sexual violence in conflict to the DRC Government. During a reception organised at the British embassy in Kinshasa, she addressed the assembled guests as follows:
“It is a great pleasure to be here today – and to meet so many people who are championing the work to address conflict-related sexual violence.
As you are all far too aware, the devastating conflict that this country has suffered highlights the destructive power of rape and sexual violence as weapons of war.
For too long in DRC and elsewhere there has been a crushing sense of inevitability - perpetuating the long-held view that rape is somehow an inevitable part of war.
I simply do not accept that.
Rape is not an inevitable part of war…
What I do recognise, is that for too long sexual violence in conflict has been hidden from view.
That is something which the British Government is determined to reverse.
Last June and July, the United Kingdom hosted two landmark summits - the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict - and the Girl Summit.
Those ground-breaking events brought together experts, decision makers, representatives from civil society, including some of the people in the room today - and most importantly the brave, inspirational women and girls - who too often are the victims of unspeakable acts of violence.
The scale of international support during these events was a remarkable reflection of a growing collective resolve - a resolve to see an end - once and for all - to these devastating practices.
Last year’s summits and the UK’s campaign to end sexual violence in conflict - launched three years ago - were just the beginning.
We must now capitalise on the momentum they have generated.
Now is the time to act.
Over the last year, I and my colleagues at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development have been working closely with partners around the world - to tackle this challenge head on and turn the commitments made at the summits into results on the ground.
The Government of the DRC is, of course, a crucial partner in this vital work. I am pleased to say, it has made much progress.
Not least among its achievements are:
• Publication of its National Strategy to Fight Sexual Violence; • Creation of the action plan for the Congolese Army; • President Kabila’s appointment of Madame Mabunda as his Special Adviser on Conflict Related Sexual Violence and Child Recruitment; and • The prosecution of high ranking army officers and the payment of reparations to survivors of conflict-related sexual violence.
These are impressive steps – showing the Congolese government’s clear commitment to real, practical action.
The UK will continue to be a partner to the DRC in this work – not least through training on documenting and investigating sexual violence in conflict - and through a £203 million DFID programme - which touches on the complex issues that contribute to sexual and gender based violence.
However, despite these positive steps, we cannot afford to be complacent.
Since the summits, the United Nations has reported thousands of new cases of sexual violence - particularly in North Kivu and Orientale provinces.
Clearly, the fruits of our labour will not be borne overnight. Our work must be for the long-term - and not just in the DRC, but around the world.
We must continue to take practical action if we are to rid the world of all forms of violence against women and girls.
That is why I hosted an event at the United Nations two weeks ago, to look at what more states, international organisations and civil society can do particularly to address some of the underlying causes of sexual violence and inequality; how we can work together more effectively; how we can learn from each other - and draw on each others’ strength.
I am passionate about this agenda - and I am in no doubt that we will achieve real progress if we meet the following three goals:
• First, to ensure that rape and crimes of sexual violence are recognised and treated as the serious war crimes they are; • Secondly, to ensure that addressing sexual violence in conflict is an integral part of our discussions on international peace and security; and • Thirdly, to drive forward our work to end impunity for perpetrators of sexual crimes in warzones.
Of course, I recognise that changing legal frameworks and political discussions only go so far. We have to find ways to shift entrenched cultural attitudes… and I know from more than 30 years in political life that politicians and governments cannot manage this kind of shift alone.
Indeed, it is impossible for one government, one international organisation or one civil society group to achieve change except by co-operating together.
It is of crucial importance that we bring our collective ideas, our collective energy, our collective resources to bear - so that future generations are spared the life-long suffering and devastation so keenly felt in communities around the world today.
Some say we that will not succeed…that attitudes are too ingrained…that that the barriers before us are too great.
I fundamentally disagree.
History has shown that it is possible to change barbaric practices in conflict – from the Geneva Conventions of 1949 to the international ban on the use of land mines of 1997.
It can be done.
We have here both an opportunity and a responsibility to do more to end systematic violence against women and girls once and for all, and to ensure that its perpetrators are held to account.
This is why the International Protocol matters. The product of a joint international effort - bringing together expertise from across the globe - it is a practical tool to help document these awful crimes so that those responsible can be brought to justice.
I hope that it will help those of you in DRC trying to make this a reality. Today I want to send the message that the UK is here to support you.
That is why I am delighted to announce today the UK’s support for a new project with TRIAL to train lawyers in Bukavu on the use of the International Protocol for the Documentation and Investigation of Sexual Violence in Conflict. TRIAL is a wonderful organisation who is active around the world, helping in a practical way to end impunity for international crimes.
Through this innovative project, TRIAL will help survivors to access national and international justice; support lawyers so that they can develop and submit robust cases; and train human rights defenders.
This will give those working with survivors the tools they need to improve the documentation and prosecution of these abhorrent crimes - and ensure that survivors have access to the support they need to rebuild their lives.
In addition, to ensure that the International Protocol is as accessible as possible in DRC, I am happy to announce that the UK will be translating it into Lingala and Swahili.
I would like to conclude my remarks by paying tribute to the work of the Government of the DRC; courageous individuals including many of you here, and those I will meet in Goma during my visit; and the members of civil society who work on these issues day in, day out.
They all show that it is possible to take action – that these crimes can be addressed – that there is hope for a future without sexual violence in conflict.
I look forward to continuing our work. Together, we can make a difference.”