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Healthcare for victims of rape in conflict

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hospital sign, rape in warProvide rape victims with “the best care as soon as possible”.

RapeInWar and the National Alliance of Women’s Organisations (NAWO) are demanding the end of aid-based restrictions on abortion services in conflict zones for rape survivors and an increase in the health care available to all victims.

It is extremely difficult to definitively outline the scale of rape in armed conflict due to the chaotic nature of war zones and the failure of states to prioritise this issue, however, as barrister Toby Cadman of Omnia Strategy LLP pointed out in a report produced by the website RapeInWarg: “Rape is being used more than all other prohibited weapons combined”.

These weapons include: “starvation, herbicides, biological or chemical warfare, [and] dum dum bullets”.

The United Nations (UN) estimates that 200,000 women have been raped in the Democratic Republic of Congo over the last 15 years from the period characterised by armed conflict onwards, with “1,100 rapes […] reported each month” in recent years.

In the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, UN figures place the amount of rape victims as between 250,000 and 500,000.

Tahirih Danesh, human rights researcher and documenter, asserts in the RapeInWar report that despite the end of the conflict between the government and the Tamils, in Sri Lanka “at least 5 rapes a day and 6 cases of child abuse are reported”.

Danesh quoted a Human Rights Watch (HRWreport that highlights the use of rape in detention centers across Sri Lanka between 2006 and 2012.

These assaults – which, please note, take place in state facilities – infer that the Sri Lankan government does not view rape prevention, healthcare for victims or prosecuting these crimes as important.

On 20 May the National Alliance of Women’s  Organisations (NAWO) organised a meeting at the House of Lords on rape induced forced pregnancy, and in partnership with RapeInWar, produced a report on this issue with the title ‘Rape Induced Pregnancy in International Conflict’ which was published in early June.

NAWO and RapeInWar aimed to demonstrate that rape and sexual assault in conflict occur on a large scale and as such are a serious global problem that must be discussed and eradicated.

The provision of adequate healthcare, including, stressed Toby Cadman “Abortion services and counselling [which] constitute medically appropriate treatment for victims of rape who have become impregnated” is an inherent part of aiding victims and communities in recovery and thus ensuring lasting stability.

For, Lord Lester of Herne Hill QC pointed out, “Rape is […] a war crime under the Rome Statute on the International Criminal Court”.

All of those quoted in the report agreed with this view and acknowledged rape in conflict as an extremely effective, morally reprehensible weapon of war that was and is utilised to systematically destroy communities and erode social cohesion.

The social stigma attached to victims and to the children produced as a result of sexual crimes prevents the individual and the community from recovering and therefore prosecuting rape, this exacerbates the fallout of traumatic situations and the continuance of rape with impunity.

Baroness Gould of Potternewton said that the United Nations Security Council described rape “as a tactic of war and a threat to international security, with women and girls being particularly targeted by the use of sexual violence”.

And this is exacerbated by the USA’s restrictions on abortion provision in the humanitarian funds the USA sends to states, a factor which is especially relevant as the USA is the largest provider of humanitarian aid in the world.

The Global Justice Centre details the harm of the US blanket ban on abortions in states that accept aid, and laments the absence of any exceptions, for example for victims of rape or for women at risk of dying if they carry through to term.

Kathryn Blair, solicitor and blogger at RapeInWar, advised attendees to encourage states to support the European Parliament’s ‘Resolution between Women and Men’ which recommends that “EU Member States […] segregate their funds from US funds so as to not subject them to the abortion restrictions imposed by the US”.

Lord Lester said that “The Committee against Torture, the UN Human Rights Committee and the European Court of Human Rights have made it clear that to deny an abortion to a woman who has fallen pregnant as a result of rape is contrary to the Convention against Torture”.

Because of course there is the additional danger that women in conflict zones are then forced to seek unsafe abortions or attempt to self abort.

NAWO trustee Zarin Hainsworth went on to urge attendees and interested parties to support the call for universal healthcare for all victims of rape in conflict and the introduction of abortion services as required by survivors.

It is paramount, said the Netherland’s government ministers Frans Timmermans and Lilaane Ploumen, that victims are provided with the best care as soon as possible.

In terms of further action, Zarin Hainsworth invited all interested parties to contact RapeInWar or NAWO for more information and to see what future steps can or will be taken.

Hainsworth also  encouraged UK residents to write to their MPs to ask them to raise this issue at Prime Minister’s Questions.

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