[Lambeth Palace] The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby gave this video message today to the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, hosted in London by the UK government.
The message was played at a panel discussion on the role of faith leaders in preventing and responding to sexual violence in conflict.
The panel, chaired by Nicky Morgan, Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Minister for Women, discussed examples from across the faiths where religious leaders and communities have played a distinctive role in addressing the root causes and consequences of sexual violence. They also considered how barriers to their effective participation can be transformed.
The speakers, who represented different faith communities, included the Anglican Archbishop of Rwanda, Onesphore Rwaje.
A transcript of the message follows:
"I’m very grateful to have the opportunity to say something to this extremely important gathering. The Foreign Office has committed itself, and the British government generally has committed itself, to combatting sexual violence across the world – and that is a project of such value and significance that it is hard to describe.
"A few weeks back I was with my wife in the eastern DRC and seeing what – funded by the British government – churches and NGOs are doing to combat sexual violence. And when you see what happens to people, it is breathtakingly terrible; and when you see what targeted, careful work does it is extraordinary in what can be achieved.
"Let me give you an example. On both visits over the last few years I’ve gone to see churches working with women who had been raped. The society of the eastern DRC is being progressively more brutalised by war, by rampaging militias, by extractive industries misbehaving, and that brutalisation is slipping into the general population. The churches are the main bulwark against this brutalisation. They love the women who come to them for help. They show them love and human dignity – that is extraordinary in itself.
"Through wonderful organisations like HEAL Africa they treat their physical injuries. And then individual clergy, trained and equipped, with their wives, begin to deal with the issues of deskilling – and so they teach them a craft. They enable them to re-enter society. They show them that they are of unique importance as people; not merely the objects of other people’s lust, rage and disempowerment.
"Historically, as we are seeing in wars also in the South Sudan where I’ve been recently as well, there has been a culture of impunity. Faith leaders are challenging that culture fiercely, and saying that rape and sexual violence in war is absolutely unacceptable and will result in consequences. It’s hugely important.
"Secondly, the churches are deeply involved in the restoration of relationships – particularly the relationships, the proper relationships between men and women, in which there is equal valuing.
"In other words, with the right collaboration on the ground, this is an issue where we can, in this world, make a significant difference.
"I want to end by again commending the British government for a costly and deliberate policy of attacking this terrible crime. And to commend this conference for giving the time to seek to make a difference that is achievable if we work together. Thank you."