Kathmandu, 27 September: Transitional justice experts and survivors from post-conflict countries, including Nepal, Cambodia and Guatemala have underscored the urgency for addressing pending cases of conflict-related sexual violence to secure lasting and sustainable peace.
Experts speaking at a two-day conference at the end of September on peer-to-peer sharing of lessons for addressing conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV), said many of the victims silently suffer and continue to live with the mental trauma, and will do so until a conducive environment is created to address the consequences of conflict-related sexual violence.
The conference sought to build the capacity of survivors of conflict-related sexual violence to articulate their concerns, speak up for their rights and advocate for addressing their specific needs. Peer-to-peer support experts from Cambodia and Guatemala shared the history of their countries' conflicts, how the issue of conflict related sexual violence was dealt with and their personal testimonies, which is expected to help countries like Nepal find workable solutions and roadmap for healing the trauma.
"If crimes are left unsolved, the trauma created during the conflict gets transmitted to next generation. It is very important that we let conflict affected people share their experiences to help heal their wounds. What we need here is a healing mechanism that follows proper legal and psycho-social techniques," said Paula Martinez Velasquez from Guatemala's Community Studies and Psychosocial Action Team (ECAP).
While Nepal has established a set of transitional justice mechanisms, they are inadequately mandated to fully address CRSV cases. Existing legal ambiguities around amnesty and the statutory limitation to report rape, which includes CRSV cases, are some of the areas that need to be addressed to make the mechanisms fully compliant with international standards. An amendment to the Act on Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Commission on Enforced Disappearance, therefore, is expected to fill this gap.
"The fact that the conflict related sexual violence survivors have not been officially recognized as conflict affected persons in Nepal is a serious issue. The survivors could not access any services under the government's Interim Relief Programme and continue to remain excluded and uncared for", said Suman Adhikari, Chairperson of the Conflict Victims Common Platform. "Most victims and survivors could not file their complaints to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission due to stigma and lack of sufficient support mechanism including the confidentiality measures."
"Many people have suffered. They had to get on with their lives and with their families without the issues addressed," said Sita Dev Yadav, Honourable Minister of Peace and Reconciliation. "The Government, NGOs and bilateral organisations will have to provide crucial support to bring justice and dignity. On behalf of the Government, I will try my best to take positive steps towards initiating the healing process."
Organized by the Conflict-Related Sexual Violence Taskforce consisting of IOM, UN Women, UNDP, UNFPA, UNICEF and UN Resident Coordinator's Office, the conference held special significance for Nepal where many people still continue to suffer the consequences of human rights abuses that occurred during the 10-year armed conflict.
"This conference echoes the theme of the International Day of Peace celebrated in September, which was: Sustainable Development Goals: building blocks for peace. By addressing the psychosocial needs of survivors of conflict-related sexual violence, we leave no one behind and in doing so, we move a step closer to achieving gender equality and supporting sustainable peace in Nepal," said Renaud Meyer, UNDP Nepal's Country Director.
"The UN remains committed to advocating for the official recognition of sexual violence survivors as conflict victims. We strongly believe that this will promote an understanding that survivors are not to blame for what happened and also open an opportunity for healing," he said.