We should all speak out for survivors

ABot
FOTO; KoSSev

By Nicholas Abbott

On Human Rights Day, and at the end of the “16 days of activism” campaign against gender-based violence, I wanted to write about a topic which means much to mepersonally. Around the world, too many women and men are victims of Conflict Related Sexual Violence (CRSV) and many more are at risk of experiencing sexualabuse in current conflicts.

CRSV is a forced crime perpetrated against women, girls, men and boys that is directly or indirectly linked to conflict. This crime is preventable and punishable under International Human Rights Law, International Humanitarian Law and International Criminal Law. The UK is a world leader in tackling violence against women and girls, and we take pride in supporting victims of CRSV across the world. Engaging on and preventing CRSV is a priority issue for our new Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss, for our broader foreign policy, and for me.

Recent events in Afghanistan and other conflict zones reinforce the need to expand this work and increase our ambition internationally to combat this crime. Responding to CRSV is everyone’s responsibility and the UK joins with many countries to address the issue, including with Kosovo. Our work on CRSV in Kosovo has established the United Kingdom as one of the leading advocates and supporters on CRSV issues. With UK funding, we support over 1500 female and male survivors through the Government Commission and four local NGOs.

This support aims to improve the overall social and psychological well-being of survivors and their family members through stigma awareness raising activities, support for access to justice, rehabilitation services and support to access reparation programmes by the Government of Kosovo. We are also supporting ground-breaking research on transgenerational trauma, which shows how it is possible for children to inherit trauma from CRSV survivors.

This research will provide tools for practitioners and policy-makers in the preventive intervention strategies, and make a significant difference to the lives of victims and their families. Since our support started in Kosovo in 2014, both local NGOs and the Government of Kosovo have achieved much. Two survivors have spoken publicly through the globally recognised ‘’ Be My Voice’’ campaign. Consequently, this year we saw the
first conviction for crimes of conflict related sexual violence by the Kosovan courts.
CRSV is not just an issue for women.

In Kosovo and across the world men and boys are victims of CRSV – this is a gender blind problem that requires gender blind support. Through the campaign, local NGO’s have organised meetings with male CRSV survivors. This has been a first in Kosovo.
The Government of Kosovo has formed the Commission to provide reparation to
survivors (currently more than 1000 survivors receive reparation, including male
survivors). Additionally, the Protocol on Identification, Investigation and Treatment of
sexual violence cases during the war has been developed to serve as a guiding
document for institutions involved in the investigation of CRSV cases.

Survivors still face many challenges, in particular stigma and access to justice.
These are the main challenges that survivors face, because if people feel unable to
talk about their experience, they cannot seek justice. NGOs and the Government of
Kosovo are addressing this challenge and the awareness raising ‘’Be My Voice’’
campaign is one such example of this. NGOs reach out to all communities in Kosovo
to speak about sexual violence and to show society and survivors that the support is
there.

Fighting the stigma that survivors face is difficult, but one of the ways that we all can
contribute towards this is to speak out. Survivors need to know that experiencing
sexual violence is not a crime. Society needs to be vocal, discussing this more
publicly and showing faith in survivors. We need to reinforce the fact that committing
sexual violence is punishable by law and that experiencing it is not a shame.

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