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James Duddridge

Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Part of FCDO Human Rights

10th December 2014 London, England

Preventing Sexual Violence and Protecting Civil Society

For Human Rights Day Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs, James Duddridge, blogs on Preventing Sexual Violence and Protecting Civil Society.

I am proud to say that the UK, and the Foreign Office specifically, has taken such a strong lead in the battle to end sexual violence in conflict. In September, I co-hosted an event on the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, with Ban Ki Moon’s Special Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Bangura. Although I wasn’t at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict in June this year, I was, like most people, deeply impressed. It was unlike anything the Foreign & Commonwealth Office had hosted before, and brought the issue of sexual violence as a weapon of war to the attention of many people who were previously unaware.  When you think about conflict, you think about fighting. You perhaps don’t think about rape or sexual violence. But sexual violence and rape are used as weapons, just as guns and bombs are.  More and more frequently, innocent people are subjected to these despicable, deliberate crimes.

We have made some excellent progress over the last two years. We’re now focused on delivering the outcomes agreed at the Summit. Many of these are described in the Summit Report, soon to be published. One of the most important is the International Protocol on the Documentation and Investigation of Sexual Violence in Conflict – a key tool in supporting Civil Society, Human Rights Defenders and other first responders on the ground in conflict areas. The Protocol will be used to document and investigate alleged incidences of rape and sexual violence, and sets out basic principles for the collection, documentation and storage of evidence and information about sexual violence as a crime under international law. This is important to ensure that survivors can see justice for the crimes committed against them.  But to be effective, individuals and other Civil Society groups must be allowed access to the areas where these crimes have been committed, and to go about their work supporting survivors.

In many countries this is becoming increasingly difficult, and the work of these crucial actors is work increasingly under threat.  Limits on the ability of people to go about their work on the ground don’t only affect HRDs working to highlight crimes of sexual violence – a multitude of people, working in a range of areas, experience harmful restrictions on their work which limits their ability to work effectively, for example stopping humanitarian workers to reach those in need in Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan states in Sudan. This is not acceptable.

Limiting the work of Civil Society means that human rights abuses and violations are less visible – whether the limits are imposed by Governments or corporations, and whether the victims are women, children, local communities or anyone else who seek to exert their rights or highlight wrong-doing. In the last few years we have seen laws drafted, in over 50 countries, which restrict the way Civil Society can operate, including its ability to interact and its access to funding. We have seen particularly strong attacks on journalists and the ability of the media to operate independently.  This year alone around 100 journalists, media assistants and bloggers have been killed. Where such actions are allowed to be carried out with impunity, the ability of the media to operate is severely curtailed. Without a vibrant Civil Society and a free press societies cannot flourish, socially or economically. Around our global network we work on a daily basis to support Human Rights Defenders, for example by attending trials, highlighting detentions, and lobbying governments; often the most important action we can take is to keep individual cases in the public eye. But I recognise that we need to do much more at the international level to roll-back this tide of restrictions which is affecting Civil Society across the world.

So, on this International Human Rights Day, it is important that we remember and celebrate the work of Civil Society and Human Rights Defenders. They put their lives at risk every day in order to protect civilians in conflicts, and to guarantee that their human rights are not abused or violated.

About James Duddridge

James Duddridge MP was appointed Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office on 11 August 2014. He was elected to Parliament in 2005 as the Conservative…

James Duddridge MP was appointed Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office on 11 August 2014. He was elected to Parliament in 2005 as the Conservative MP for Rochford & Southend East. James was educated at Essex University. He had a business career in the private sector, including ten years in the banking industry in Africa and London. He has vast experience on Africa affairs, a keen interest in financial matters and industry, and was a founding member of the polling forum YouGov.