Monday, February 9, 2015


09 February 2015 14:59 by Liz Dodd

The Archbishop of Canterbury today joined William Hague and Angelina Jolie-Pitt in encouraging faith leaders to help end the use of sexual violence in conflict.

Mr Hague, the Prime Minister’s Special Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict, told delegates at the start of a two-day interfaith consultation at Lancaster House in London that the Government wanted to work with them to support victims and “shatter impunity” of those who raped and tortured women as a weapon of war.

“As faith leaders you understand that just as no human being is beyond redemption, no problem is beyond resolution,” he said. “I deeply admire the unquenchable determination to succeed in a moral and humanitarian causes that religion has often inspired. If ever a cause has needed unquenchable ambition and resolve it is this cause.”

He said that congregations’ unparalleled access to communities made them “trusted and impartial witnesses”, as well as the first port of call for victims.

Archbishop Justin Welby regretted that Churches had failed to act on this issue in the past.
“Our record has much to question. Churches must evidence that they recognise that issue, and in recognising it, they come with respect and humility – and that’s often not what we’ve done,” he said.
The consultation meeting focused on how to mobilise faith communities and is a follow-up to the Global Summit on sexual violence held in London last June. The two days of talks will produce a set of recommendations from faith leaders.

Archbishop Welby held his head in his hands as Mrs Jolie-Pitt, special envoy to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees who has just returned from northern Iraq, described the suffering of a young girl there who had been tortured with an electric drill.

“Our most powerful assets are not our armies,” she said. “They are our values. As faith leaders you are advocates for the values of compassion, tolerance, justice and reconciliation.”

She asked faith leaders to help lift the stigma attached to rape and sexual assault; to raise awareness of the issue of sexual violence being used as a weapon of war; to confront those who seek to use religion to justify sexual violence; and to demand justice for victims.

Afterwards, Mr Hague told The Tablet that the gathering was a powerful example of co-operation that could help to overcome tensions between Government and faith groups and between religions themselves.

“It relies on people of each faith to want to work together – Government can’t create that. Government doesn’t have the power to order people to work together. I think we’re seeing on this issue a great willingness to do so, and I’ve seen that all over the world. I don’t think any other tensions will detract from a willingness to work together on sexual violence,” he said.

The Archbishop opened the conference alongside the Prime Minister’s Special Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict, William Hague; Baroness Anelay of St Johns, Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office; and the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Refugees, Angelina Jolie Pitt.
The conference was organised by the FCO and the coalition We Will Speak Out, which brings faiths together to work towards ending sexual violence.

"The role of the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy on Refugees, Angelina Jolie Pitt, is one that has been extraordinary. What she said just now sums up so beautifully the issues we are facing, and puts it so  precisely in terms of the challenge that there is. It’s wonderful that she has committed her time, her energy, and has taken great personal risks in order to be able to speak authentically as to what she’s done.

"We also ought to thank William Hague and Baroness Anelay at the FCO for their vision for this conference that follows up the one last June on Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict.
"One of the things that always strikes me in the job I do now is that one becomes less cynical about politicians. We just need to bear in mind that in an election year to be committed to this issue is not necessarily something that increases your share of the vote. It shows that people in public office often have the great issues of the day at their hearts and do genuinely seek to make a difference, and we really do owe those who’ve put this on, who’ve led the way, particularly William Hague, a great debt; so thank you.

"I’m also aware that here today are a number of people I know who have led the way in challenging sexual violence in areas of great difficulty. His Grace Archbishop Henri Isingoma is standing just here from the Democratic Republic of Congo. The work of the churches in the DRC has been extraordinary. I’ve been there and been with them, watching them particularly beat the kind of challenges that Angelina Jolie Pitt was just putting before us; of rescuing survivors, of treating them as human beings with their own dignity, worthy of infinite love, and of enabling them to see that to be excluded or stigmatized was completely unmerited; and that they are quite the opposite to how they’d been treated. And people like [Archbishop] Henri [Isingoma] and [Mme] Mathilde [Ntahoturi] from Burundi have done extraordinary work. I’ll come back to that in a minute.

"I was last in an area where sexual violence was continuing at an appalling rate, the South Sudan, in December. We need to face the fact that although this has always happened in war, it has become more and more systematic, more and more deliberate, and the level of impunity has increased steadily.

"And therefore to challenge sexual violence in conflict we also have to challenge conflict itself. The chaos of conflict makes impunity seem easy and acceptable. The sheer chaos of the battlefield, the sense that nobody knows what you’re doing, and the fact that in conflict men in particular do terrible things to each other, makes it easier to do terrible things to civilians. The challenge of reconciliation is one that is at the heart of dealing with this issue.

"On the wall opposite the UN building in New York are some words from the prophet Isaiah: ‘Turn swords into ploughshares.’ That is at the heart of what is trying to be done; and the fact that it’s on the UN building shows that there is no conflict between human rights principles and faith values of human dignity. The two are two sides of the same coin, both for individuals and for nations and societies.

"Angelina Jolie Pitt has highlighted the areas of contribution of faith leaders and communities superbly. I particularly want to emphasise our need for giving moral and theological leadership, and thus challenging the culture of impunity.

"Many governments are beginning to make statements and to set out policies. As with all policies, the question is then will there be effective implementation, and what structures will we come up with at this conference; or what ideas for structures can we come up with that make failure to implement more costly to governments than implementation itself.

"Those involved in conflict have to realize that not dealing with this will cost them hugely for the whole of the rest of their lives; that they will never escape the consequences of what they have done. So the culture of impunity, setting an alternative narrative, that says that there is a better way, and enabling faith leaders and communications to live by that narrative, is at the heart of the challenge that we are facing.

"It cuts across many issues. It is how the temptation to join Isis, Boko Haram, al Shabaab and other groups is diminished. Where there is a more attractive alternative that is about human flourishing, but has the same challenge, excitement and potential for the individual involved.

"The work of the faith communities is also essential, as has been said, about offering space for survivors. They are doing that. In the DRC last year I watched that happening in an internally displaced persons camp, and I also saw the beginnings of work being done in the DRC by the churches on transforming gender relationships – including, especially, as we already heard, the need for positive models of masculinity that reject the use of sexual violence or domestic abuse in any form, at any time, in any place. It is a cultural question.

"In the faith communities we need to be very honest – our record has much to question it. And therefore the churches and other faith communities must also evidence that they recognize their poor history and that in recognizing it they come with repentance and humility about often not only what we’ve done but our recent silence on the issue, on gender discrimination, and on stigmatization of survivors. The faith coalition We Will Speak Out is at the heart of that and must be affirmed.

"It is wonderful that you have come today. I feel very humbled to be allowed to be here to speak to you, where many of you have come such long distances, in your daily lives do so much, and take such risks, and have so much to teach us about how this terrible crime can be challenged, how the problems of conflict can be addressed. Thank you."

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