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Nigel Baker

Ambassador to the Holy See (2011-2016)

Part of FCDO Human Rights UK in Holy See

26th May 2016

Catholic religious on the front line

Baroness Anelay and Catholic religious
Foreign Office Minister Baroness Anelay meets religious congregations, Rome 21 May 2016

Baroness Anelay, Foreign Office Minister and the Prime Minister’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, paid a brief visit to Rome last week. The main focus of her trip was to meet religious men and women from Catholic congregations working in Africa and elsewhere to help the victims of sexual violence in conflict. The meeting had to be held behind closed doors because of the very real potential threat to sisters and brothers operating in this area. We opened with a prayer for religious recently murdered in south Sudan, abducted in Yemen, and violently attacked in Nigeria – sad testimony to the dangerous conditions in which so many work.

Baroness Anelay saluted their constancy, commitment and courage. The discussion revealed the deep understanding of the realities on the ground by so many religious who have dedicated their lives to helping others. One said that he had lived in the Democratic Republic of Congo (before Zaire) since 1970, and since 2009 had focused on helping to rehabilitate victims of sexual violence, traumatised by their experience, back into the community. Another sister gave us a harrowing picture of her work in the borderlands of Congo and Uganda devastated by the so-called Lord’s Resistance Army militia. Harrowing, but also hopeful. She, unlike many international NGOs, did not leave when trouble arrived.

My government is hoping to be able to work more closely with this network of extraordinary men and women. One of the real problems for victims of sexual violence is the stigma that sticks to the victim, not the perpetrator. We learned from the religious we met that a crucial aspect of reintegration into society was helping the victim recover his or her social identity, as well as training and education for the victim and for their children. Sadly, so much remains to be done. The British government is determined to do more to prevent this appalling but all too prevalent crime. Tackling impunity through the very practical International Protocol now available in many languages, training military including UN forces, and dealing with judicial corruption are all pieces in the jigsaw.

What Catholic religious men and women are doing, day in and day out, to help and support the victims, is a vital and selfless service that we should never take for granted. They are trying, through their own umbrella organisations based in Rome, to strengthen cooperation between the many different congregations that are working in this area. We wish them well in this effort, and look forward to cooperating with them in our common battle against hate, violence and corruption. Rape as a weapon of war needs to be eradicated. Catholic religious are in the front line against it.

About Nigel Baker

Nigel was British Ambassador to the Holy See from 2011-2016. He presented his Credentials to Pope Benedict XVI on 9 September 2011, after serving 8 years in Latin America, as…

Nigel was British Ambassador to the Holy See from 2011-2016. He presented his Credentials to Pope Benedict XVI on 9 September 2011, after serving 8 years in Latin America, as Deputy Head of Mission in the British Embassy in Havana, Cuba (2003-6) and then as British Ambassador in La Paz, Bolivia (2007-11). In July 2016, Nigel finished his posting, and is currently back in London.

As the first British Ambassador to the Holy See ever to have a blog, Nigel provided a regular window on what the Embassy and the Ambassador does. The blogs covered a wide range of issues, from Royal and Ministerial visits to Diplomacy and Faith, freedom of religion, human trafficking and climate change.

More on Nigel’s career

Nigel was based in London between 1998 and 2003. He spent two years on European Union issues (for the UK 1998 EU Presidency and on European Security and Defence questions), before crossing St James’s Park to work for three years as The Assistant Private Secretary to His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales. At St James’s Palace, Nigel worked on international issues, including the management of The Prince of Wales’s overseas visits and tours, on the Commonwealth, interfaith issues, the arts and international development.

Nigel spent much of the early part of his FCO career in Central Europe, after an initial stint as Desk Officer for the Maghreb countries in the Near East and North Africa department (1990-91). Between 1992 and 1996, Nigel served in the British embassies in Prague and Bratislava, the latter being created in 1993 after the peaceful division of Czechoslovakia into the separate Czech and Slovak Republics.

Nigel joined the FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) in September 1989. Between 1996 and 1998 he took a two year academic sabbatical to research and write about themes in 18th century European history, being based in Verona but also researching in Cambridge, Paris and Naples. The research followed from Nigel’s time as a student at Cambridge (1985-88) where he read history and was awarded a First Class Honours degree, followed by his MA in 1992.

Before joining the Foreign Office, Nigel worked briefly for the Conservative Research Department in London at the time of the 1989 European election campaign.

Nigel married Alexandra (Sasha) in 1997. They have one son, Benjamin, born in Bolivia in September 2008.

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