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BIG DEBATE: Do we do enough to help rape victims of war seeking asylum?

PUBLISHED: 07:00 18 June 2014

An anti-rape demonstration in the entrace to the ExCel Centre
Photo: David Mirzoeff

An anti-rape demonstration in the entrace to the ExCel Centre Photo: David Mirzoeff

Archant

An international protocol against rape as a weapon of war was signed at last week’s Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in conflict zones, co-chaired by Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague and film star Angelina Jolie who is a UN Refugees Special Envoy, which was held at east London’s ExCel centre. But campaign groups like Women Against Rape have put the British Government in the dock over use of detention centres to hold refugees arriving in the UK after fleeing war zones who are refused asylum and then sent back to certain danger. Rape survivors protested at the summit against “government hypocrisy”. We asked the Foreign Secretary and the women protesters to state their case:

William Hague and Sian EvansWilliam Hague and Sian Evans

Sexual violence in conflict destroys lives and damages communities—but the overwhelming majority of perpetrators are not held to account, which has led to a global culture of impunity for warzone rape, writes William Hague.

This Protocol is the first of its kind, and we hope it plays a vital role in shattering the culture of impunity for sexual violence in conflict.

Up to 50,000 women were victims of sexual violence during the war in Bosnia, but only 60 perpetraters have been successfully prosecuted for it.

From Central African Republic to Sudan and Syria, untold thousands of rapes have gone unpunished.

"We owe it to our future generations to end one of the greatest injustices of our times"

Foreign Secretary William Hague

One of the primary reasons for lack of prosecutions is difficulty gathering evidence that can stand up in court—and the trauma and stigma faced by survivors.

The Protocol is to overcome those fundamental barriers. We are determined to ensure that police forces, peacekeepers and civil society know how best to document and investigate sexual violence in conflict, so that perpetrators can be successfully prosecuted.

We came together at the Global Summit at ExCel because we are determined to end the use of rape and sexual violence in conflicts around the world.

We have seen in our lifetimes too many individuals, families and communities devastated by these crimes. For too long, those responsible have not been held to account.

"Women detained when they arrive in Britain are abused and deported back to war zones"

Sian Evans, Women Against Rape

This must change—rape and sexual violence is not an inevitable consequence of war or a lesser crime. The shame of these crimes should be firmly on those who commit them—not the victims.

Every individual has a moral responsibility to speak out, locally, nationally and globally, to demand a change in how the world perceives and responds to these crimes.

We owe it to our future generations to end one of the greatest injustices of our time.

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But pressure groups like Women Against Rape insists the British government is complicit in the ill-treatment of women in detention centres when it refuses genuine asylum and sends them back to war zones, as Sian Evans tells us:

I have worked with thousands of women seeking asylum from rape, murder and genocide in the 20 years working with Women Against Rape.

While the ExCel Summit claimed to support “courageous survivors”, women are detained and abused, including sexually, by security guards when they arrive in Britain and are deported back to the war zones they fled from.

Some have died in detention after having been refused health care, while others were deported and later raped or disappeared.

A mother from the Democratic Republic of Congo and her five-year-old daughter had both been gang-raped—her child died of her injuries and her husband was killed. She was not believed when she arrived in the UK.

A survivor from Sierra Leone was granted right to stay, but the Home Office is trying to over-rule the Tribunal’s decision.

Others are “fast tracked” for deportation, denied their right to present their case.

Women in Britain who report rape also face disbelief and injustice. Look at Jimmy Savile, or the serial rapist John Worboys, the London cabbie entually jailed in 2009.

Statistics show only 6.7 per cent of rapes end in conviction—even less when committed by a partner or ex-partner. Police often don’t gather the evidence, or the Crown Prosecution drops the case and even prosecutes the women who are wrongfully imprisoned for a “false allegation”.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Hogan Howe spoke of officers having “unconscious bias”. Whistleblower James Patrick told a Commons Select Committee that police falsifyed rape figures and had pressured women to withdraw allegations.

We called on Angelina Jolie to come to Yarl’s Wood detention centre on Sunday on International Day to Close Detention Centres and hear what survivors think about their treatment by the British government.

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