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The Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Personal Representative on Sexual Violence and Child Recruitment, Madam Jeanine Mabunda, launched the Principles for Global Action to tackle the stigma of sexual violence in conflict at the 72nd United Nations General Assembly in New York, at a program organized by the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative.
“This launch gives us confidence that the world is stepping up to tackle these issues and we stand in solidarity with everyone here today,” Madam Mabunda said.
On September 18th, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, the UK Prime Minister’s Special Representative for Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict, and Pramila Patten, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, spoke alongside Madam Mabunda and Kolbassia Haoussou, the co-founder of Survivors Speak Out, a UK-based survivor-led activist network.
Panelists discussed the need to end all forms of sexual violence in conflict, highlighting the importance of fighting the stigma survivors of sexual violence face worldwide. Stigma often suppresses victims into silence, perpetuating their suffering and contributing to a culture of impunity which fuels the cycle of abuse.
“Rape is the action of the perpetrator; stigma is the reaction of society. Both must change, or neither will,” said Special Representative Patten. “It is unacceptable that survivors risk being twice victimized: first by the perpetrator, then again by society and the State, which is often unresponsive, punitive and discriminatory. Aggressors understand that this crime can turn victims into outcasts, so it will rarely be reported.”
The Principles for Global Action were designed to serve as a practical guide to increase awareness of the many forms of stigma survivors of sexual violence often face, and incorporates the expertise of 13 UN Agencies, NATO, the EU Commission, civil society, NGOs, academia and the governments of Australia, Canada, France and the U.S. The guide was also informed by experiences of survivors and practitioners from 16 conflict affected countries, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “This is a truly global document – created and owned by us all. I am very proud to be launching it today,” said Lord Ahmad.
“Rape is still the only crime for which a society is more likely to stigmatize the victim, than to punish the perpetrator. And it is the only crime that casts a long shadow of social disgrace upon the victim. We must reverse and redirect this stigma, to send a clear signal that the only shame of rape is in committing, commanding or condoning it,” said Special Representative Patten.
“We are working to change the mindset of our society and to reduce the stigma associated with sexual violence across the DRC,” said Madam Mabunda. The Office of the Personal Representative has initiated several programs in the DRC to support this goal, including the launch of the Break the Silence campaign in Kinshasa in May 2015, which encourages citizens to report cases of sexual violence through the emergency line Number 122 and provides greater support to victims.
“We are also working to shift perceptions and improve education regarding sexual violence at a grassroots level, helping to combat stigma and mobilize communities – tangible progress is being made thanks to our efforts and the support of our many partners,” said Madam Mabunda.