I have the great pleasure of introducing this special issue of Forced Migration Review. This edition builds on the momentum generated by the International Symposium on Sexual Violence in Conflict and Beyond, convened in June 2006 in Brussels by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the Government of Belgium and the European Commission.
Politicians and civil society representatives must work together in seeking solutions to the scourge of sexual violence.
Rape in war has reached epidemic proportions and the international community needs to take much more far-reaching action – now.
Although sexual violence permeates most societies, especially in situations of social disruption, it is an area of public health and human rights where we can collectively already do a great deal and show results quickly.
The European Union has developed policies and instruments that address – both directly and indirectly – sexual violence in conflict and beyond. Policy areas that are important in this respect include human rights, gender equality, development cooperation, humanitarian aid and conflict prevention.
Sexual violence has a profound and long-lasting physical, psychological and social impact.
With sexual violence now recognised as a weapon of war and a punishable violation of human rights, it is incumbent upon the international community, national governments and humanitarian organisations to provide more effective protection of women and girls.
During the 14-year long civil war, Liberia’s south-east region witnessed extreme levels of sexual violence. Without action to heighten awareness of the root causes of male violence it will not be possible to unlearn destructive notions of masculinity and machismo.
Decades of under-development and conflict have left South Sudanese women – in the words of the late John Garang – “the poorest of the poor and the marginalised of the marginalised.” It is in this context that violence against women and girls breeds.
In hundreds of refugee and IDP settings throughout the world, women and girls are made more vulnerable to sexual violence because of the almost daily need to leave camps in search of firewood. More can and must be done to reduce this risk.
Survivors of sexual assault need emotional support, safe and private spaces for healing and access to resources, information and networks. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) operates ten Women’s Centres in Darfur to try to meet these needs.
The UN and the African Union must do more to insist that the Government of Sudan create an enabling environment to report, investigate and prosecute cases of violence against women.
Tackling SGBV in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) will require greater resources and coordination. A weak or non-existent judicial system discourages victims from denouncing their attackers. The number of attacks continues to increase and perpetrators go unpunished.
In Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Sierra Leone, the end of armed fighting has not brought with it the longed-for peace. Today, an epidemic of gender-based violence continues to undermine efforts to bring stability.
Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) Belgium currently addresses sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in many of its projects worldwide, including South Africa, Burundi, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Sudan, Chad, Rwanda and Colombia. Two of our most successful interventions are in South Africa and Burundi.
Evidence is mounting that early marriage is a form of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) with detrimental physical, social and economic effects. Policymakers need to focus on the complex interactions between education, early marriage and sexual violence.
Assistance to survivors of SGBV should always be underpinned by international action and advocacy.
Domestic violence is an all too common response to the pressures of life in crowded refugee camps and communities living under occupation. The Palestinian Authority (PA) has failed to establish a framework to respond to violence against women and girls.
Programmes to address gender-based violence (GBV) must address and include all members of the community, including men. Implementing these initiatives, however, is an enormous challenge.
Among the millions of Colombian IDPs one group is particularly invisible – women and girls associated with illegal armed groups. The current demobilisation process does not adequately address the consequences of the sexual violence they have suffered before, during and after conflict.
Over three million Iraqis are currently internally displaced or have left Iraq, with possibly one million of these having been displaced since the February 2006 Samarra bombings. Refugees, IDPs and host communities have exhausted their resources. Donors are unresponsive to their needs and governments oblivious to the likely secondary displacement to Europe and further afield.
As the Balkans anxiously await delayed UN recommendations on the final status of the Serbian province of Kosovo, displaced persons from Kosovo remain torn between uncertain return prospects and denial of local integration.
The US media has taken an intense interest in the experience of a relatively small group of young males who walked from South Sudan to Ethiopia, spent up to a decade in the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya and were eventually re-settled in the USA in 2001. What is behind the celebrity status – and the cultural misunderstanding – of those dubbed the ‘Lost Boys’?
Growing numbers of people are escaping conflict and poverty in Somalia and Ethiopia by making a hazardous journey across the Red Sea. Yemen, their initial destination, has signed the 1951 Refugee Convention – unlike its Arabian peninsula neighbours – but this poorest of Arab states lacks the means to provide support.
The Comprehensive Reproductive Health in Crises (CRHC) Programme is a major new initiative that will catalyse change in how reproductive health (RH) is addressed within relief organisations, field services and global decision making.
Signs on the outskirts of the second largest city in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) welcome visitors to ‘the city of peace’. Lubumbashi has a reputation as a haven of tolerance in a violent nation but how are displaced people treated?
The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, Panos London and the Norwegian Refugee Council in Colombia have launched a project to tell the life stories of the more than three million Colombians who are internally displaced. A pilot project, it will be rolled out in other parts of the world.
Jan Egeland, the outgoing UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, has called for “a humanitarian system that is able to respond reliably, effectively and efficiently across the full range of emergencies … humanitarian aid must be the responsibility of all nations for the benefit of all nations.”
At least 28 Sudanese were killed in December 2005 as Egyptian riot police violently dispersed asit-in near the Cairo offices of UNHCR. A year later, those responsible for human rights violations have not been held to account and some refugees who went missing remain unaccounted for.
In the Algerian hammada, a hot and harsh region of the Sahara, more than half the Sahrawi people has been waiting for 31 years to go home.
Through a series of reports published with national civil society organisations, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) has established an informal mechanism to monitor progress in implementing recommendations made by the UN Secretary-General’s Representative on the Human Rights of IDPs.
In 2007, as the new Director of the Refugee Studies Centre I will have the enormous pleasure of leading its 25th anniversary celebrations.