United Kingdom – The international community has taken too long to recognize how vulnerable women, girls and children are to gender-based violence in crisis situations, according to IOM Director General William Lacy Swing,
Speaking at the “End Sexual Violence in Conflict: London 2014” global summit yesterday (12/6), he called for international action to ensure that perpetrators never hold positions of power that allow them to commit sexual violence against women. He also called for the creation of a system to compensate victims.
The summit, which is co-chaired by UK Foreign Secretary William Hague and UN Special Envoy Angelina Jolie, is the largest meeting ever held to discuss the role of rape in war and how to stop it. The aim is to create an irreversible momentum against sexual violence in conflict and to find practical ways to impact the reality on the ground.
“IOM is on the front line in the fight against sexual exploitation and abuse, because we work in complex emergencies, including conflicts and natural disasters, where gender violence is widespread,” said Swing. “The prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse (PSEA) must be a priority in emergency response operations and IOM is now integrating PSEA elements into all our activities,” he noted.
The rising incidence of sexual violence associated with human trafficking is another major concern to IOM, he added. “We have identified cases in several recent emergencies, including in Haiti, Libya, Syria, the Philippines following Typhoon Haiyan and in the Central African Republic,” he said.
“Human trafficking flourishes in emergencies because of the increased vulnerability of affected populations, the breakdown of traditional support structures, and weakened state infrastructures and social service support systems,” said Swing. “But, sadly, efforts to combat the problem are rarely given priority in emergency relief operations.”
IOM has responded by ensuring that trafficking is included in the initial needs assessment conducted at the onset of every crisis. IOM staff working in emergencies provide protection and assistance to victims, raise awareness among crisis-affected populations, and work to build the capacity of local authorities to cope with the issue.
Swing also highlighted the importance of programmes to compensate and help the victims of sexual abuse in the aftermath of an emergency. “IOM continues to encounter victims of sexual violence who, years, even decades afterwards, remain without recognition or any effective remedy. This is a key component of peacebuilding and transitional justice after a crisis,” he noted.
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