Baroness Arminka Helic, formerly William Hague’s special advisor at the Foreign Office, has over the last nine months worked with other peers to look into the impact and direction of the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative she did so much to set up. Her insights have no doubt strongly shaped the final conclusions which warn against a narrowing of the initial ambitions of the project and the downplaying of government commitments.
Two recommendations stand out for maintaining an ambitious agenda:
- Keep the focus global. 19 countries are reported by the UN to have had recent episodes of conflict-related sexual violence, however the growing focus of aid and diplomacy on countering violent extremism risks narrowing down the PSVI to select countries in the middle east and north Africa.
- Secure the continued spotlight on sexual violence in conflict by establishing a regular four-yearly cycle of global conferences, as well as an annual report to Parliament. This recognises that the rhythm of political energy, commitments and action is inevitably driven by fixed events that can be aimed towards.
Actions in the short term – political statements and peacekeeping
Additional points seem to be aimed at influencing shorter term decisions.
- Quite topically with the debate in parliament on 20 April, the inquiry noted that the UK government should go ahead and call the crimes in Iraq and Syria sexual violence, torture and genocide, and that those responsible should be brought to justice.
- Likewise, with an eye on the UK-hosted peacekeeping summit in September, the inquiry calls on the setting up of a new tribunal to independently prosecute peacekeepers who have committed sexual exploitation and abuse, as well as the naming and shaming of states who in the meantime fail to properly investigate crimes by their soldiers on peacekeeping missions. It is no accident that the minister in charge of PSVI, Baroness Anelay, is also leading on the Women, Peace and Security sessions of the September summit, and much of this report speaks as an action plan for her team, as well as a nudge to her boss the Foreign Secretary.
Demonstrating commitment to human rights
Overall the report arrives at a critical juncture where global momentum around the PSVI, and the wider human rights agenda that encompasses it, risks stalling.
The PSVI team itself is not slowing down and is already working on developing new strands of work to tackle the stigma faced by survivors of sexual violence.
However, coming at a time when the Foreign Office leadership has been accused by its Parliamentary watchdog of giving the impression that it has deprioritised human rights, the report includes clear actions that can be taken by the government to demonstrate its long-term commitment to this agenda and set out ambitious policy goals.