Baroness Emma Nicholson: We must maintain momentum to end sexual violence

On a ferociously hot day in Baghdad a few months ago, I listened as a young Yazidi girl slowly and carefully told me her horrific story. Captured by the monstrous Daesh when her village in Northern Iraq was overrun, Nadia had been sold to the highest bidder, an elderly thug called Selman, who proceeded to rape this poor girl on a daily basis. 

Any resistance was met with fists and boots. As we finally abandoned the sweltering heat of the garden for the cool of the hotel lobby, Nadia burst into floods of tears as she told me about one particularly gruesome day. Selman had become outraged at her attempted resistance to his vicious sexual assaults which left her battered and bruised. 

So in revenge he allowed all six of his bodyguards to drag her into the bedroom and rape her. One after the other, over and over again. Her ordeal lasted for hours, and when it was finally over she was left bleeding and in agony, barely able to move her battered body. Though Nadia’s story is particularly horrific it’s not in any way unusual. 

Every day thousands upon thousands of women, girls, boys and men are the victims of sexual violence. It has become a weapon of war. It ruins lives and destroys communities. That’s why this week’s report by the House of Lords’ Committee on Sexual Violence in conflict is so important, to keep up the momentum of the Prevention of Sexual Violence Initiative (PSVI) launched in 2012 under the Coalition Government. 

This was a big step, it made headlines around the world and raised the profile of this important issue. The conference benefited from the legitimacy provided by the attendance of numerous world leaders and the attention generated by the involvement of a global superstar and UN Special Envoy in Mrs Angelina Jolie Pitt. 

As Chairman of the committee I was determined to ensure the UK kept up this momentum and we started with the premise that the occurrence of sexual violence during conflict is not inevitable. For too long it has been regarded as ‘just something that happens’ in war. It is not; it is a war crime. Like genocide, slavery and torture it must be challenged and eradicated. 

I believe the Government now needs to reassert its commitment to the PSVI. It should do so by clearly setting out strategic goals and producing a plan for their delivery, including providing long-term commitment and resources. Without that commitment there is a risk momentum will be lost and the good work since 2012 undermined. 

Once that strategy has been set out, it is important to keep a firm eye on how it is progressing. That is why we are recommending the Government produce a report to Parliament each year on its progress. More too must also be done to bring the perpetrators of these vile crimes to justice. We owe it to each and every person that has suffered in this way to ensure the barbaric criminals responsible are punished severely. 

In my other life as Chairman of the medical and educational NGO, the AMAR International Charitable Foundation, I have met countless victims of sexual violence in almost a quarter of a century of visiting and working in war zones. Every single time their dreadful stories make my blood boil. It has to stop. Now. I made Nadia a promise when our meeting ended. 

I told her I would do all in my power to ensure that no other women would suffer like she had. This is something that we as Liberal Democrats should fight for. I know that’s a tough commitment to make but we will do all we can to make it happen. 

Emma Nicholson (pictured above) is a former MP and MEP, and was made a life peer in 1997


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