Bishop of Derby discusses committee report on sexual violence in conflict

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Derby 191115cOn 10th October 2016, Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne moved the motion “that this House takes note of the Report from the Sexual Violence in Conflict Committee (Session 2015–16, HL Paper 123).” The Bishop of Derby, the Rt. Revd. Alastair Redfern, who was a member of the Committee, spoke in the debate.


The Lord Bishop of Derby: My Lords, I, too, served on the committee, and it was a great privilege to be part of it. I pay tribute to the expert chairmanship of the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson. We were, to put it mildly, a diverse group, but she held us together, and we produced a report that will be significant as a foundation, as other noble Lords have said. I also offer my congratulations to the Minister, who leads by great example, as seen not just at the recent meeting at the UN in September but in all kinds of ways. She has been an encouragement and a force for the right direction within government, and I am very grateful for that contribution. I also pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Hague, for his PSV initiative. I had the privilege of being present at the summit in 2014, which has created a momentum that we need to learn from and develop. I will pick up the theme mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hague, of the significance of important Governments making a public stand. In doing that, I will also speak as a faith community leader.

There has been a great deal of high-level response since 2014, with resolutions at the UN and with our own Government taking a lead. But of course our report shows that on the ground the situation remains horrific. As the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, said, a deep culture perpetuates this crime, whatever kind of high-level political resolutions we pass. As just one perspective on the sheer complexity of the challenge beneath the level of resolutions, our own Black Rod gave evidence to the committee from his time in Bosnia. He explained very graphically that this crime happens in a context of sheer chaos. Very interestingly, recently it has been pointed out that in eastern Congo, a third of all attacks were carried out by non-military personnel—non-combatants. It is very often deep in the cultural context that this suddenly explodes when there is a space and chaos. That is what we have to grasp on the ground.

First, I will look at the significance of a major Government such as ours taking the lead that the noble Lord, Lord Hague, pointed to. The Government have a key role, but the Minister will perhaps be pleased to know that it is a limited role—we cannot land everything on the Government or expect them to solve this great issue alone. The Government have a role in two areas: first, in creating structures for debate and the right kind of practices and, secondly, in talking up and highlighting standards. I look to the Government for structures and standards.

Let us just think about structures. In our report, we say it would be sensible to have the structure of a five-year plan: let us get the ducks lined up so everybody can see what we are trying to do. I hope the Minister might comment on that proposal. There is the suggestion that the Government make an annual report just to show that the momentum is being maintained, that structures are fit for purpose, that criticism is listened to and that things that are going on can be developed. There is the suggestion in our report that there should be regular global consultations, and I was delighted to hear the noble Lord, Lord Hague, say that if other Governments will not do them we should do another one. We need to take a lead in the international scene in setting up structures where people are challenged to come and take this seriously and be seen to sign up to advancing it.

The last thing that we mentioned about structures, which other noble Lords have mentioned, is that we need to join up the efforts made, for example, by DfID and the MoD. We need to evaluate them and see how we can add value, efficiency and effectiveness by bringing our efforts together in a coherent way. So the Government have a key role in creating the structures to show their seriousness and what can be achieved—how to develop, learn and keep forward momentum. They also have a key role in setting standards. I recall meeting one survivor who had been abducted into the bush, repeatedly raped and kept as a sex slave. When the so-called peace came and everyone had gone back to their communities, she was living in a community where the people who had been raping her were regular members of the community too. That is a horrific situation, and of course in that kind of culture there is stigma attached to the woman as well.

On the kind of standards that the Government can pick up from our report, there needs to be some emphasis on rehabilitation and compensation—a really clear message that you cannot just pretend this did not happen. The report is also clear that we need to bring men and boys into the picture significantly, because too often they are ignored.

The Government need to develop standards regarding the collection and preservation of evidence. Currently that is woeful, which is why there are so few convictions. How can we as a nation learn, and help other nations to learn, about the collection and preservation of evidence? We need to use our good offices across the world—perhaps using the Foreign Office; I am not an expert on how government works—to help different jurisdictions to develop the right kind of legislation and training for judiciaries to be proactive in this field, not paralysed. Our Government, with others, need to use their efforts to ensure that the international system of justice is robust, strong and fit for purpose, which it is not yet; noble Lords will need to read the report to see why. I implore the Government to think about setting standards and creating structures.

Lastly, I want to come back to the recognition in the report of a subject that was raised at the London PSVI event in 2014: the importance of faith groups. I am not talking about this simply because I am a faith person. Actually, we are talking about the need for deep cultural engagement, under the banner of faith, in all kinds of places where women and girls are abused and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, said, excluded; along with the terrorisation of men and boys in these situations, that is just accepted too easily. In all these contexts, faith groups need to be challenged to work on four areas. The first is values. Faith tries to give values to people, so if faiths are giving values that are allowing this to happen, that needs to change. Secondly, faith tries to deal with the trickiest issue, forgiveness. Faiths need to be challenged a lot more to look at what forgiveness is and how it works. We can learn a lot from Rwanda and South Africa about how faith groups can wrestle with the reality of the knotty problem of forgiveness. Thirdly, faiths all claim to do something that in our jargon we call “community cohesion”. Clearly, though, that is not working in the case of the girl I met who went back to live in her community with the perpetrators. What does community confusion really look like, and how should faiths be challenged to look at our title deeds, our teaching and our doctrines to put that right? Lastly, faiths set a tone about cultural norms. Whether on the treatment of women and girls or the treatment of LGBTI people, faiths set a kind of context for those values.

I hope that, besides my point about the importance of the Government showing leadership over structures and standards, a powerful Government like ours could perhaps take a lead to convene faith leaders into a space where such questions as values, forgiveness, community cohesion and cultural norms could be tackled. Sadly, the faiths do not seem to be stepping into that space on our own so we may need a challenge. The convening power of a Government such as the British Government is huge, as the noble Lord, Lord Hague, showed with the event in 2014. Mine is a small suggestion but one that I think could have an enormous impact beyond the realms of the technicalities of government.


(via Parliament.uk)