November 23, 2018, the Embassies of the United Kingdom and Belgium to the Holy See, jointly with the Jesuit Refugee Service, hosted a panel discussion and film screening: “Shining a Light on Sexual Violence in Conflict.”
The event was aimed at raising awareness of the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war in conflict and drawing attention to the contribution of religious orders in supporting survivors and ending the stigma that often causes further suffering.
During their opening remarks, the Belgian and the British Ambassadors said:
H.E. Jean Cornet d’Elzius, Ambassador of Belgium to the Holy See: “Belgium, like the UK, is very active in the fight against sexual violence used as a weapon in conflicts. The Belgian Government is delighted that the Nobel Prize for Peace was awarded this year to Nadia Murad and to Dr. Mukwege, whose actions have long been supported by Belgium. My country also sees this prize as a recognition for all those – like Father Bernard Ugeux who founded the Nyota House in Bukavu – supporting victims and working to eradicate this phenomenon”.
Sally Axworthy, British Ambassador to the Holy See: “The scale of sexual violence against civilians in situations of conflict is truly appalling, an estimated 200,000 in DRC alone. The UK is taking action to support survivors and prevent abuses. We have committed over £46 million to fund vital projects, including providing training to the religious networks in DRC and Uganda. The Catholic Church plays a key role in assisting survivors on the ground, giving pastoral assistance and tackling the stigma, so that survivors are able to regain their dignity and rights within their families and communities”.
His Excellency Archbishop Paul R. Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States delivered his keynote remarks. “The urgent need to protect women and children, especially from sexual violence as a weapon in conflict or as a tactic in terrorism, should embolden every effort and States’ political will to bring conflicts to an end and to act together through dialogue and mediation efforts, in order to find coordinated solutions that promote reconciliation and build peace. Protecting and taking care of women in conflicts and post-conflict situations is a critical endeavor in efforts to build peace and, at the same time, bringing peace remains an essential way to overcome sexual violence.”
In their interventions, Sr. Sheila Kinsey FCJM, Executive Co-Secretary of the Justice and Peace and Integrity of Creation Commission, and Fr. Tom Smolich SJ, International Director Jesuit Refugee Service, spoke respectively from a female religious and a refugee-serving organization’s perspectives.
Sr Sheila Kinsey, FCJM: “I was honored to be able to share the spirit of the incredible experience of the women religious who have accompanied victims of violence in areas of conflict. For these women, the victims are the crying face of Christ experiencing isolation and brutality”.
Fr. Tom Smolich SJ: “Those of us who work with refugee women know that they are particularly at risk of sexual violence. When survivors share their stories – and they frequently do, with visitors, government officials, funders, news reporters – they deserve not to be heard in vain. We must commit to making a difference in these women’s lives, and we must commit to lessening the chances of such crimes being committed against someone else. Listening is not enough: we must accompany survivors in their journey towards healing, and we must walk with all who are at risk of suffering similar violence”.
During the panel discussion, a video message from Fr Bernard Ugeux, Missionaries of Africa, who works on the frontline with survivors in Goma was shown:
“I support and finance a shelter and a training center for 250 girls [survivors of sexual violence in conflict]. We try to empower them and provide them with professional skills so they regain their self-esteem and autonomy.” [..] “The main question is how do we stop rape used as a weapon of war. Rape is above all a way of terrorizing and controlling populations [..] and territories”.
The event ended with the film screening of “The Man Who Mends Women” which is about the work of Nobel Prize Winner Dr. Denis Mukwege with survivors in eastern DRC.