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Women experiencing sexual violence deserve to be treated with the same standards wherever they are.
The Government’s commitment to women experiencing sexual violence during conflict needs a clearer action plan. The intriguing couple of Angelina Jolie and former Foreign Minister, William Hague MP created commendable international momentum through their Global Summit in London in 2014. Now a House of Lords Select Committee has found that the Government needs to set ambitious policy goals for reducing conflict-related sexual violence to ensure this momentum is not lost.
Their report Sexual Violence in Conflict: A War Crime analyses progress in relation to the International Protocol on the Documentation and Investigation of Sexual Violence in Conflict (the International Protocol) which emerged from the Global Summit. Alongside stressing the importance of a clear strategic plan with appropriate resources embedded across government, the report recommends:
The Government should give further attention to the particular circumstances of victims of conflict-related sexual violence among those claiming asylum in the UK. (para 270)
Asylum Aid strongly supports this recommendation.
When the International Protocol was first published, we immediately noted the irony: some of the measures to help the investigation of allegations of sexual violence by women in conflict areas were not in place for women fleeing those crimes and seeking asylum in the UK.
There was a clear double standard.
Because of this gap, the Charter of Rights of Women Seeking Asylum (a coalition of 365 organisations) started a campaign in December 2014 recommending the Home Office ensure that asylum standards are equal to the standards set out in the International Protocol.
The campaign to close the Protection Gap demands the Home Office provides the following measures:
The measures listed above are particularly important as they would enhance credibility assessment. And credibility assessment is particularly important because the key reason why women are refused asylum is because they are not believed.
Having these measures in place would mean that a woman can explain what has happened to her to a female interviewer and interpreter trained in understanding the effects of sexual violence and trauma on memory without her children in the room. Receiving counselling would also help her to tell her narrative consistently and coherently. Information would mean she recognises how sexual violence could be relevant to her claim. This would help with determining the credibility of her claim.
All this would make it more likely her initial asylum decision was right first time.
As a result of the campaign to close the Protection Gap, the Home Office included these measures in its Gender Asylum Action Plan in March 2015 and we welcome their commitment and the steady progress they are making. But there is still some way to go to have all five measures implemented.
Double standards need to be replaced by comparable standards.