Avatar photo

Sarah Dickson

Ambassador to Guatemala (June 2012 - June 2015)

Part of FCDO Human Rights UK in Guatemala

10th December 2012

Human Rights Day: Working with Guatemala to prevent sexual violence

When Guatemala announced it was having a UN Security Council debate on women, peace and security around the same time the Foreign Secretary announced his initiative on preventing sexual violence it became clear that the UK and Guatemala would have a productive working relationship to advance the international community’s response to these issues. I welcome our guest blogger, Thomas Hart, Guatemala Country Director of UK NGO Health Poverty Action to talk about his experience on dealing with this issue in Guatemala. Over to you Thomas…..

“It is as much a means of waging war as are bullets or tanks”, says Britain’s Foreign Secretary, William Hague, writing about sexual violence during armed conflict.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, an estimated 100,000 women were raped in the South Kivu region alone. From Bosnia to Syria, sexual violence is used to terrorise, punish and humiliate an “enemy” population in war.

And long after the violence has ended, unbearable memories endure. But in post conflict situations, there are many who don’t want the issue aired;, the nature of internal conflicts means that in places like Guatemala, the aggressors are living open among the population they terrorised, and often still have links with the powerful.

Among women survivors themselves, there are differing attitudes; many had children as a result of rape, and are caught between needing to provide for their family and needing to confront the past. Many are desperately poor, and sometimes dependent on the aggressor for survival. Others live with shame and guilt for what has happened to them; society often blames them for what happened to them, and in turn they blame themselves.

Poverty Action spoke with a group of older women in Santa Lucia la Reforma about their lives; within minutes, the group was in tears and we had to stop as memories and traumas came rushing to the surface.

In the flurry of development work which accompanies the transition from open conflict to building peace, the voices of women brutalised by the conflict are rarely heard. For the survivors of sexual violence, war doesn’t end with peace accords.

The UK’s Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative has begun work within both the Foreign Office and the UN to support survivors and prosecute aggressors. Remembering isn’t enough; but breaking the silence around sexual violence in conflict is the first step.

Follow Sarah