They’re hiring a team: more on the FCO’s Initiative to Prevent Sexual Violence During Conflict

Looks like the FCO’s initiative to prevent sexual violence during conflict is starting to become real. The Stabilisation Unit (tri-departmental between the FCO, DFID and MoD) is hiring a UK Team of Experts “which will form one strand of the Foreign Secretary’s wider initiative on preventing sexual violence in conflict.”

Hm.. but what will these other strands be? And really, how important are they? Beyond assembling this expert team to focus on prosecutions and capacity building, it still seems unclear what this initiative will be doing or how it connects to prevention.

Gender Action Peace & Security UK have a (incidentally, quite clear) response paper that resonates with some of the concerns I had when Hague made his announcement in May. Highlights below (bolding, ellipsing & re-ordering mine), but the paper is excellent and worth a read.

On the FCO’s initiative’s theory of change to prevent sexual violence

  •  “As the UK must focus on where it can have the biggest added value, it would be useful to understand the theory of change on preventing sexual violence. Whilst an increase in prosecutions erodes the culture of impunity, there is still weak evidence to show a clear link between prosecution and prevention of sexual violence in conflict, partly due to the limited number of prosecutions. It would be useful to understand why the focus is on prosecution as a preventative mechanism rather than other efforts to change social norms and attitudes.”
  • The most successful prevention initiatives have been where work addresses root causes of violence and promotes empowerment. Prevention initiatives focus on challenging social norms and the social and behavioural change that is required to prevent sexual violence from happening.”
  • “In addition, we believe that focusing on prevention alone is not enough to make significant progress on sexual violence in conflict. The provision of basic services is limited or non-existent in many conflict affected contexts, but is absolutely vital for survivors. The UK’s own Call to End Violence against Women and Girls Action Plan recognises this and focuses on prevention, providing support, working in partnership, empowerment and taking action to ensure justice for survivors… this initiative should follow this model.”

Important measures this initiative must include:

  • Provision of essential services through ‘one-stop shops’
    • “The series of steps that must be taken to access justice is characterised by high levels of attrition. Cases are dropped as they progress through the system. As a result, only a fraction of cases end in a conviction or a just outcome. One way to reduce attrition is to invest in one-stop shops, which bring together vital services under one roof to collect forensic evidence, provide legal advice, health care and other support.
    • No survivor of sexual violence in conflict can risk retribution and further shame without basic health, livelihoods or psycho-social needs being addressed with a guarantee of confidentiality… Experience shows the difficulty of pursuing prosecution without accompanying health, livelihoods, legal and psycho-social support.”
  • Survivor-led justice:
    • “Focus on survivor led justice by ensuring accountability mechanisms to survivors. Support for survivors should be foremost and there should be recognition that some may not wish to report or go to court.”
    • “Ensure survivors are active participants in evidence gathering i.e. approaches that are designed to collect testimonies based on how survivors want to tell people what has happened to them should be adopted.”
    • “[The UK should] respond to the highly likely breakdown of formal justice systems and their restriction to capital cities… Will the UK provide support to judicial bodies at community and national levels to ensure that they can properly assist survivors?
    • “The UK should also consider identities of perpetrators: access to justice is particularly problematic where there is state perpetrated or sanctioned violence.”
    • “What action will the UK take with regards to community/informal justice systems, such as arbitration by families, traditional chiefs and elders and tribal authorities, access to which is preferred by or only available to the majority of the population?”
  • Experts working withhuman rights defenders & survivors: 
    • “The starting point needs to be what the UK can do to support women’s rights organisations to help survivors, shown to be essential to ensure support for survivors, lasting change. This will also lead to longer-term sustainability of efforts after the teams leave. In many fragile and conflict affected states, women’s rights organisations are already collecting data, drafting legislation and training those in security and justice forces.”
  • Putting the safety of survivors first and do no harm:
    • “…concrete mechanisms and methodologies need to be in place that draw on the lessons from international, national and community responses to sexual violence regarding interviewing and testimony of survivors.”
    • “The UK must take steps to safeguard against the threat of backlash against and targeting of survivors and activists involved in this work, e.g. staff from the ICTR came to homes of women who had been raped, identifying them to communities which resulted in attacks, stigma and ostracism.”
    •  “Those who face allegations of rape and sexual violence may be in positions of authority both during and even long after the fighting has stopped, placing survivors at risk for the duration of prosecutions. Furthermore, there is a risk that data shared with authorities (judicial and governmental) who may be complicit in international humanitarian and human rights law violations will be used to persecute survivors. The UK should put in place strategies and procedures to mitigate risk.

Basically,  maybe the FCO should just hire GAPS UK… Unlikely, but you never know.

Update. Bright spot in the sky– Women Under Siege (and I’d guess other NGOs) have been invited for consultation (at least 2 meetings in London). Hopefully their expertise will be taken seriously by the FCO.



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