Indian activists from the Social Unity Center of India shout slogans against the state government in protest against the gang-rape and murder of two girls in the district of Badaun. Photograph: Getty Images.
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We need to do go much further to end sexual violence in conflict

This week's summit must not be the culmination of the government's efforts.

This week, London will host the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. It is to be co-chaired by the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, and by Angelina Jolie in her capacity as Special Envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Angelina Jolie has an impressive record when it comes to her humanitarian work and raising the profile of difficult issues that could not be further removed from the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. William Hague has also played a key role in bringing this conference to London. He hasn't always received the credit he deserves from some in his own party on this issue, but he will receive Labour's support for his efforts to put sexual violence on the international agenda.

Representatives from across the globe will come to London to agree action to tackle the use of rape as a weapon of war, to end impunity for those who resort to sexual violence with no thought for the victims and no fear of reprisals, and to help the survivors of such an abhorrent, cowardly act.

I hope it proves a landmark success - we only need to look at the brutal reports of the conflict in the Central African Republic, where conflict-related sexual violence is described as epidemic, to know that the stakes could not be higher. There are countless other countries struggling with the legacy of sexual violence in conflict, or failing to end its systematic use today.

In Colombia, six women every hour were the victims of sexual violence and an estimated 12,809 women were the victims of conflict-associated rape between 2000 and 2009; few will have received support, let alone seen justice. In Burma, there are terrifying reports of the military's use of sexual violence, particularly against ethnic minority women and girls; the victims are often killed, while the perpetrators can carry on with impunity. In Somalia, sexual violence is pervasive, particularly in the camps for those who have lost their homes, but they do not have the medical services or justice systems to support survivors or secure justice and protection. According to UNICEF, one third of the victims of sexual violence in Somalia are children.

War Child reports that one in three men fleeing the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo have suffered sexual violence, while sexual violence has also been used against men, women and children in the Syrian conflict. Tragically, the list goes on of conflicts in which bodies have been taken as a prize and people have been violated as a means of warfare. So we cannot underestimate the importance of this summit for those still living in terror, or living with the scars of vicious attacks.

I hope, too, that this international focus on sexual violence in conflict can provide a springboard for a more concerted focus on sexual violence in other contexts and on other abhorrent acts of cruelty being committed against women across the globe.

Over the last month alone we have been appalled by the case of Meriam Ibrahim who was sentenced to 100 lashes for adultery and sentenced to death by hanging for apostasy because she had married a Christian man and refused to recant her Christian faith. She gave birth in prison, where she is being held with her 20 month son. Meriam, her husband and now the whole world are waiting for the outcome of her appeal; waiting for a court to agree she can fall in love with whoever she wants and is free to choose her own religion.

We have been horrified, too, by the public stoning of a pregnant woman in Pakistan. Farzana Parveen was killed by her family outside Lahore High Court because she had married against their wishes. The viciousness of the attack, and in such a public place, has rightly attracted the world's attention, but Farzana's murder should highlight wider problems in Pakistan, where there are hundreds of "honour" killings every year.

And then we have the two teenagers in India, whose bodies were found hanging from a tree after they had been gang-raped. Sexual violence is an increasing concern in India, but Indian citizens protesting about the shocking prevalence of such a heinous crime were confronted by a water cannon.

These are just three high profile examples from the last few weeks. There have been many, many more whose plight we will never hear about, just as there are so many thousands who are silently recovering from sexual attacks inflicted during conflicts that have devastated their countries.

In too many countries women are living in fear of horrific acts of gender-related violence, and facing cruel and inhumane punishments for "transgressions" that we would consider basic rights. So I hope that this week's summit is not the culmination of the UK government's efforts, and they will have Labour's support in their work going forward. We must make it clear that such abuses cannot be tolerated, just as the survivors need to know that they are not alone.

Kerry McCarthy is the Labour MP for Bristol East and the shadow foreign minister.

Photo: Getty Images
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The future of policing is still at risk even after George Osborne's U-Turn

The police have avoided the worst, but crime is changing and they cannot stand still. 

We will have to wait for the unofficial briefings and the ministerial memoirs to understand what role the tragic events in Paris had on the Chancellor’s decision to sustain the police budget in cash terms and increase it overall by the end of the parliament.  Higher projected tax revenues gave the Chancellor a surprising degree of fiscal flexibility, but the atrocities in Paris certainly pushed questions of policing and security to the top of the political agenda. For a police service expecting anything from a 20 to a 30 per cent cut in funding, fears reinforced by the apparent hard line the Chancellor took over the weekend, this reprieve is an almighty relief.  

So, what was announced?  The overall police budget will be protected in real terms (£900 million more in cash terms) up to 2019/20 with the following important caveats.  First, central government grant to forces will be reduced in cash terms by 2019/20, but forces will be able to bid into a new transformation fund designed to finance moves such as greater collaboration between forces.  In other words there is a cash frozen budget (given important assumptions about council tax) eaten away by inflation and therefore requiring further efficiencies and service redesign. 

Second, the flat cash budget for forces assumes increases in the police element of the council tax. Here, there is an interesting new flexibility for Police and Crime Commissioners.  One interpretation is that instead of precept increases being capped at 2%, they will be capped at £12 million, although we need further detail to be certain.  This may mean that forces which currently raise relatively small cash amounts from their precept will be able to raise considerably more if Police and Crime Commissioners have the courage to put up taxes.  

With those caveats, however, this is clearly a much better deal for policing than most commentators (myself included) predicted.  There will be less pressure to reduce officer numbers. Neighbourhood policing, previously under real threat, is likely to remain an important component of the policing model in England and Wales.  This is good news.

However, the police service should not use this financial reprieve as an excuse to duck important reforms.  The reforms that the police have already planned should continue, with any savings reinvested in an improved and more effective service.

It would be a retrograde step for candidates in the 2016 PCC elections to start pledging (as I am certain many will) to ‘protect officer numbers’.  We still need to rebalance the police workforce.   We need more staff with the kind of digital skills required to tackle cybercrime.  We need more crime analysts to help deploy police resources more effectively.  Blanket commitments to maintain officer numbers will get in the way of important reforms.

The argument for inter-force collaboration and, indeed, force mergers does not go away. The new top sliced transformation fund is designed in part to facilitate collaboration, but the fact remains that a 43 force structure no longer makes sense in operational or financial terms.

The police still have to adapt to a changing world. Falling levels of traditional crime and the explosion in online crime, particularly fraud and hacking, means we need an entirely different kind of police service.  Many of the pressures the police experience from non-crime demand will not go away. Big cuts to local government funding and the wider criminal justice system mean we need to reorganise the public service frontline to deal with problems such as high reoffending rates, child safeguarding and rising levels of mental illness.

Before yesterday I thought policing faced an existential moment and I stand by that. While the service has now secured significant financial breathing space, it still needs to adapt to an increasingly complex world. 

Rick Muir is director of the Police Foundation