NEW YORK, June 13 (C-FAM) Abortion is not among the legal and health policies in the latest global effort to end sexual violence in war.
This week countries and non-governmental organizations met in London at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence to secure political commitments to end impunity for perpetrators of sexual violence. Over 150 countries have endorsed the UN Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict launched by the U.K in 2012.
U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague presented a protocol for the investigation and prosecution of perpetrators in the hope that it will be used to end impunity. Rapists too often go unpunished because of a lack of effective mechanisms for legal redress in war torn areas.
The protocol does not recommend abortion as part of a comprehensive legal response to sexual violence. Instead the protocol condemns forced sterilizations and abortions as crimes against humanity. An annex of the protocol on multi-sectoral responses to sexual violence also leaves out abortion, but includes emergency contraception among recommended medical interventions.
A testimonial of a woman who became pregnant as a result of rape is included in the protocol. Recounting her ordeal as a sex slave to militiamen she said: “I have never told anyone this, and I love my child and wish to protect her.”
The U.K. led initiative is steering clear of controversy over abortion and the summit got a nod from the Vatican last week.
Rape in conflict “is designed to destroy women, families and communities,” said Sr. Elena Balan on a special Vatican Radio broadcast ahead of the global summit in London. She described how women and girls are “gang raped in front of their families . . . house to house.”
“One of the greatest injustices on this planet is that so few of the perpetrators are brought to justice,” stated Nigel Baker, U.K. Ambassador to the Holy See. The broadcast sponsored jointly by the Vatican and the U.K. featured the U.K. ambassador, Catholic humanitarian groups and religious missionaries who work in war torn areas and have witnessed the devastation wrought by sexual violence.
The humanitarian experts emphasized the importance of psychosocial support to heal and “rehumanize” girls and women of sexual violence.
Unless more relief workers are trained to provide emotional and psychosocial assistance to survivors “the victims of today will be in the coming years the perpetrators because of the internalized oppression that they will have lived,” said Sister Victoria Chiahula, a missionary of our Lady of Africa. “But if we free them,” she continued, “they become agents of building reconciliation and loving communities.”
“Catholic relief workers understand the road to healing,” said Horik Macarochter, an officer for Jesuit Refugee Service in Burundi. The stable presence of Church networks in affected communities is the best vehicle to offer support and reconciliation, often more so than organizations with a “narrow focus.”
Combatants use rape as a tactic to dehumanize people so that they can be dominated, said Michel Roy, Secretary General of CARITAS International, the largest Catholic aid and development network.
Roy said governments could take concrete action to deter perpetrators. He cited a U.S. law that bans the purchase of minerals from the Democratic Republic of Congo if they originated from areas where rape is practiced.
Despite the U.K.’s decision to stay clear of controversy abortion groups are attending the summit in London this week to ask governments to include abortion in humanitarian aid.