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Archbishop's remarks at the Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict summit

Friday 13th June 2014

Archbishop Justin Welby spoke at a ministerial dialogue on 'The Role of Faith Communities in Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict' at the End Sexual Violence in Conflict Global Summit in London, 12 June.

The event was attended by four Anglican archbishops: Archbishop Justin; the Most Revd Bernard Ntahoturi of Burundi; the Most Revd Henri Isingoma of Congo; and the Most Revd Onesphore Rwaje of Rwand, as well as Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Baroness Warsi, Sheikh Abdallah Bin Bayyah and Solange Mukana. 

A transcript of Archbishop Justin's remarks follows: 

"The Cardinal picked up at the beginning the underlying issues around the dignity of the human being, and that's been well covered. And Sheikh Abdallah Bin Bayyah powerfully spoke of the underlying cause, which is conflict itself. At that point I think many of us would have felt that this is one of those moments where there is no practical solution, we're just going to have to fight this forever. And then Solange spoke, and we see the energy in the room and the sense this can be dealt with, that it is possible to tackle.

"I think there are a number of practical things, and I want to start with the very short term and then move through four, very briefly, to the longer term.

Watch: Archbishop's video message to the End Sexual Violence in Conflict summit 

"The first one is conflict itself. It is no use trying to tackle sexual violence unless that process is integrated into measures to deal with issues of conflict. Practically that means the provision of support for civil society – I look round and I can see at least one person here who takes huge personal risk in doing this; support within civil society that challenges those leaders who lead towards conflict. The South Sudan would be a classic case at the moment where that kind of action is necessary. Sheikh Abdullah has said much about this, and I don't want to add to what he said, because he said it very clearly and powerfully.

"Secondly, in the short term, practical measures are around care for survivors. At the end of January I was with my wife in both the South Sudan and the DRC, and in the DRC, with Tearfund and HEAL Africa – and Mark Simmonds, one of your colleagues, was there, from the government. There was the most remarkable operation to care for those who were suffering the after effects of rape and of sexual violence generally. That was being done through post-trauma support and through micro-finance to deliver the opportunities for new employment; and the faith communities were deeply involved in those. Each of those things needs support financially. It also needs experience shared from further afield. So we need a good network in which good practice can be shared and we can learn from one another, because most of the time we're reinventing what other people have already done.

"Thirdly, longer term there is the issue around justice and impunity. One of the things that most struck me in South Sudan was the sheer shock of the society at finding themselves once more involved in a war of the utmost violence, in which the universal and unspeakable use of sexual violence is impossible to convey in words. I was up in a town in the fighting area with my wife to help bury some of the 6000 people murdered in that town. Every single woman had been attacked before she was killed, of any age. Where do we hear about that in the news today? It's forgotten. It's not a fashionable conflict any longer. We have to have a system that challenges impunity, where governments say publicly that anyone involved in sexual violence will, at some point, be caught up with and will answer for their crimes. It's no use just saying it; it has to occur. And there has to be sufficient fear of that justice that it begins to have an effect on the officers and commanders in the field.

"Fourthly, culture (this is getting longer term). Churches – I'm not going to speak about other faiths because I am not qualified to – but all of us who are church leaders have to ensure that the message we convey is the one that Cardinal Vincent spoke of: the dignity of the human being, the dignity of the woman, and that their human dignity means that it is utterly – I'm using a Victorian phrase, but I'm going to use an old-fashioned word – unmanly to use sexual violence. It is not merely wrong, it is deeply contrary to everything a man should be involved with – and most of the crimes, almost all of them, are committed by men. So the cultural change, I think, comes from the educational responsibilities – and the best people to deliver that in many war zones are actually the faith groups, because they tend to be the only functional organisations. But they need support and training and the provision of mentors."

Read more about the Global Summit on the Anglican Alliance website


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