Peaceful Sounds of Voices in Conflict
Guest blog by Jana Lopusna, campaigns volunteer for Amnesty Scotland.
I recently spent a weekend in the beautiful Edinburgh City Chambers, at an event run by the Edinburgh Peace Initiative, learning about national and international conflict and peacekeeping. The conference Voices in Conflict: Rights Realism and Moral Outrage brought together a diverse group of professionals, civil society organisations, and representatives from the academic world to talk about how we can achieve a variety of peace building goals around the globe.
Of special interest to me, was the opening interview with Sierra Leonian politician and activist Zainab Bangura, who is the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Sexual Violence in Conflict.
At the UN, Zainab’s role is to end impunity for conflict-related sexual violence, empower women, mobilise political ownership, and foster national leadership and responsibility. She is also tasked with increasing the recognition of rape as a weapon of war, and harmonising the UN's response to sexual violence.
Zainab shared her personal experience of working with political leaders and organisations in conflict areas, and highlighted the need for a coherent global leadership and advocacy to tackle conflict-related sexual violence.
One of her major concerns is about a persistent culture of silence and denial among many societies across conflict zones. Some political leaders still refuse to recognise that sexual violence is happening and that it is used as a tool of war. Though there may be different causes and mechanisms in distinct conflicts, sexual violence is generally used in a context of war to break people’s spirit and their community.
“It is also a crime against family and society” she said. And on top of the trauma of the violation itself, Zainab pointed out that “in some countries there is a strong perception that women who speak up are destroying the image of their country.”
The victims of conflict-related sexual violence have to face tremendous social stigma, isolation, and they are often abandoned by their own families.
However, she underlined the resilience of women who suffered from sexual violence and showed her admiration for the strength of the victims, who are able to move on, continue living for their family, and working for the good of their community.
When asked about her recent observations, she pointed out a rise in rape among men and boys in connection with detention and interrogation techniques in Syria, as well as widespread sexual violence in places where especially vulnerable people come to seek refuge and safety – refugee camps and camps for internally displaced people.
“What really struck me was that there is no age limit when it comes to sexual violence; I heard that three- and six-month-old babies were raped, as well as a 75-year-old blind women. Another element is an increased level of brutality used to break people’s morals”, she explained.
The only way to tackle sexual violence during conflict is to break the culture of silence and denial, recognise that sexual violence is happening, address the issue under strong national leadership, and ensure the availability of services for victims.
The latest news on sexual violence in conflict can be found here.
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.