Time to Act – Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict

From 10th to 13th June 2014 in London (UK), government representatives from 120 countries together with over 1,000 experts, faith leaders, youth organisations and representatives of civil society, military and jurisdiction came together aiming to create an irreversible momentum against sexual violence in conflict and deliver practical actions that impact those on the ground. This gathering was chaired and hosted by the Right Honorable William Hague, British Foreign Secretary, and Angelina Jolie, UNHCR Special Envoy. The IFMSA considers the prevention of sexual violence in both conflict and peace, through education and empowerment of both women and men, to be of crucial importance.

2014.06 Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in conflict, IFMSA delegation

[The IFMSA Delegation in the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict]

Strengthening investigation, documentation and prosecution

Currently many legal systems, especially those in geopolitically-insecure areas, face a grave lack of avenues for the investigation, documentation and prosecution of gender based violence (GBV), particularly rape. For this reason involvement of the international community is of great importance. The available expertise and trained professionals can assist in those countries where technical assistance in investigation and documentation is mostly needed. Furthermore, training medical professionals, law enforcement and policemen to adequately collect evidence and document this in ways understandable to all professions greatly increases the chances of successful prosecution of the perpetrator. Especially, the physicians are crucial in in the evidence collecting process and consulted first by survivors of sexual violence. This double role of examining the patient to collect and document evidence, as well as providing psychosocial support throughout the entire process results to often in conflict of interest, which hamstrings the prosecution process . Next to support on the ground, the implementation of national laws should be stimulated, in order to support the local prosecutors.

Therefore, the international community was called upon to support the active participation of women in legal systems especially as prosecutors, judges and lawyers and, moreover, to assist developing countries in tapping into the wealth and expertise on the international level.  This may be helpful to mobilize professionals from across the globe, that are ready to rapidly deploy the areas where technical assistance in investigation and documentation in conflict is greatly needed. Utilising this expertise will in turn produce a good outlet and strengthen the prosecutor’s abilities to bring successful cases against perpetrators. National law framework should be actively promoted.  When national laws fail to prosecute adequately, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has the privilege and also obligation to intervene. In accordance to the ICC Rome Statue of 1998 this can be done, because GBV can be (and was) categorised as torture and, thereby, as crime against humanity and/or war crime. Truth and reconciliation commissions can be also a powerful tool for this.


“The key is eliminating impunity and having consequences up and down the chain”

John F. Kerry, US Secretary of State

The difficulties we are facing now in conflict areas regarding recognition of rape as a crime and prosecution of the perpetrators is something we have also seen in the western world. Both the paternalistic image of women dominated by men and the association of shame & victim-guilt has hamstringed the development of legal frameworks around the world. To cease GBV sustainably we have to shift the guilt from the victim to the perpetrator by establishing the right legal framework. Stronger accountability to perpetrators will end the impunity and send the message that perpetrators will be brought to justice. It will restore the dignity of survivors and lay the foundation, on which safe communities can be rebuild in the aftermath of a conflict. An “up-and-down”-approach should be applied, which ensures that for example an army general tolerating his men raping women, will brought to justice too (as is normal for any other war crime). Thereby, the essential outcome of any accountability reform should be non-recurrence. Furthermore, reparations to victims were discussed as a mean to simplify recovery. Therefore, some countries assured extra funds for the ICC Victims Trust fund.

Post2015-Development Agenda

One in three girls worldwide is affected by Gender Based Violence. It is no matter of inadequate dressing or the behavior of women, as studies proof. It is a barbarous crime against humanity often instrumentalized to misuse a vacuum of power and held people away from revolutions. Therefore, it is in any way a major obstacle against full empowerment of women and their full participation in society. Knowing this and our shared responsibility for global human rights, the delegation of Sweden and USA have pushed forward to establish GBV as one, separate development goal in the the post2015-Agenda, demanding full empowerment of women and the rapid stop of impunity on all levels by creating a binding international legal framework.  Also the youth should be heard in this process as they have mayor and direct influence on the reduction of GBV in communities.  The UK administration lead by good example and launched a National Action Plan on Women, Peace & Security. This joint venture of the Secretaries of Defense, International Development, and Foreign Affairs outlines clear action and legal requirements to achieve the abolishment of GBV sustainably.

John Kerry’s speech

“No team can succeed leaving half the team on the bench”

J. F. Kerry, US Secretary of State

The question “Why now?” was often raised understandably enough. One of the big achievements, that earmarks the 21st century so far, is the full empowerment of women in all areas. As shown above, any kind of violence against women undermines these efforts substantially. We do achieved to eradicate Anti-Personnel Mines as legitimate mean of war. So why not write Sexual Violence out of the lexicon of war. It´s just #TimeToAct.

“Do not go silent. Raise your voices. Use your influence

to inspire the next generation of men to honor women.”

Angelina Jolie, UNHCR Special Envoy

IFMSA and Sexual Violence in Conflict

As an outcome of the attendance in this summit IFMSA members from different NMOs have mobilized and joined hands and dedication to assure that IFMSA enhance its involvement in addressing this issue, both through internal capacity building as well as external advocacy. If you as member with any of the IFMSA NMOs wish to participate and take an active role in this working group please contact Liaison Officer of Human Right and Peace for further instructions, lrp@ifmsa.org.

For further information / Related Documents:

IFMSA Delegation: Zartash Javaid, Kimberley Bennemeer, Fabian Falkenbach, Moa M Herrgård

IFISO Spring Meeting in Utrecht

Between May 29th and June 1st, IFMSA was present at IFISO Spring Meeting in Utrecht: The Informal Forum for International Student Organizations joint around 20 different student organizations to share best practices, network, explore collaborations, and discuss strategies for youth engagement and empowerment at a global level.
IFMSA was represented by the Pedro Correia de Miranda, Liaison Officer to Student Organizations, Petar Velikov, Standing Committee on Public Health Director, and Zavira Heinze, Publications Support Division Regional Assistant for Europe.
During three days, there was the opportunity to meet with organizations with which IFMSA is already partner, and follow-up on the collaborations that exist. These include EMSA – European Medical Students Association, IPSF – International Pharmaceutical Students Federation, IVSA – International Veterinary Students Associations, EFPSA – European Federation of Psychology Students Associations, and get to know so many others. Sessions lead delegates through discussion on many different issue. From grants and corporate fundraising to IT infrastructure; from advocacy and and training systems to crisis situation and external communication; all members had the opportunity to share both the problems they encounter on their associations, and brainstorm around solutions, and the success stories on each of these subjects!
It was indeed an amazing opportunity to get to know what best is done around the world, and show IFMSA to others, in a joint collaboration to explore youth engagement to its highest potential.
Pedro Correia de Miranda, Liaison Officer to Student Organizations

The key to fighting violence against women and girls is education

Blog 1

Violence against women and girls continues to be the most fundamental and globally widespread violation of women’s human rights worldwide. The United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women defines violence against women as any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.

“Domestic violence is a global public health concern with one in three women throughout the world experiencing physical and/or sexual violence by a partner or sexual violence by a non partner”. Professor Sir Michael, Director of University College London Institute of Health Equity, was speaking at a luncheon seminar during the 67th World Health Assembly, organized by the World Medical Association and the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations.

WMA and IFMSA represent millions of doctors and young people worldwide. Deploring the costs of violence, its devastating health consequences to the women, their children and to the society as a whole, health professionals consider that they have a key role to play in combating one of the most severe human rights violations.

Professor Sir Michael Marmot (top photo) outlined the extent of domestic violence around the world, explaining how in many countries married women believe a husband is justified in beating a wife if she refuses to have sex. Education, however, is key. The more educated women are, the less likely they are to think that violence is justified. Both physicians and health professionals should play a bigger role in the prevention as well as the detection of violence against women and girls. Staff training in equality and diversity issues should be improved so that physicians and others could detect cases of abuse among their patients and would ask the relevant questions.

‘For instance, much domestic abuse starts during a woman’s pregnancy and physicians should be aware that daring to ask the right questions during this time is particularly effective. Previously silent women may come forward because of fear of harm to their baby’. In addition, women and girls should be empowered through education and social support.

Blog 2

Dr Margaret Mungherera, WMA President addressed how Gender Based Violence (GBV) is only one of the many forms of violence that women experience worldwide. In conflict situations, sexual violence is common and is often associated with physical violence and abductions. Unwanted pregnancies, HIV/AIDS, mental disorders and traumatic fistula are common complications. GBV should be included in the pre-service training and continuing education curricula of physicians and other health workers. GBV services should be integrated into mental health and primary care services and these should be made available universally.

The need for including prevention and recognition of violence against women in the medical curriculum was echoed by Waruguru Wanjau (below photo), IFMSA Liaison Officer to World Health Organization, as well as the need for different fields in health to come together to solve the problem through a holistic approach. ‘There is a need for all of us, medical students and physicians, to be advocates against violence against women and girls’.

Blog 3

On May 24th, the 67th World Health Assembly adopted the historic resolution “Strengthening the role of the health system in addressing violence, in particular against women and girls, and against children. The resolution notes interpersonal violence to be a major challenge in public health, and raises concerns related to the consequences, including death, disability and physical injuries, mental health impacts and sexual and reproductive health and social consequences. The resolution affirms the health system’s role in the prevention, response and advocacy for interventions to combat social acceptability and tolerance of interpersonal violence, and calls WHO to develop a global plan of action as well as scientific evidence collection of the magnitude, trends, consequences and risk factors for violence.

Blog 4

In the conclusion of the luncheon, education was pointed out to be key in fighting violence against women and girls. Education of women and girls is key to understand that violence should not be tolerated. Education of boys can neither be forgotten. And finally, the solution starts close to home: Education of medical students and health professionals is key for them to dare to address this topic, to recognize the consequences of violence and to ask the right questions.

Our great thanks go out to the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad) and the Ministry of Health and Welfare of Taiwan for their support in hosting this WMA-IFMSA Luncheon “Doctors Fighting Violence against Women and Girls”.


Related sources