Last Friday, SEMA — and its members from the world over — marked the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, through various local actions which we shared on social media*. Other organisations also commemorated June 19th. In particular, the Institute for International Criminal Investigations (IICI) and the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative of the UK government (PSVI) in consultation with Nadia’s Initiative, jointly launched the draft of the Murad Code for further consultations. The draft Murad Code was developed through in-depth, preliminary discussions with more than 160 survivors of wartime sexual violence (including 8 SEMA members), documenters, researchers, donors and other experts from across the world. Once finalised, the Code will provide clear, ethical guidelines on documenting and investigating sexual violence in conflict, to ensure a safer and more effective experience for both survivors and those interacting with them.
SEMA member Fulvia, a women’s rights activist and survivor of conflict-related sexual violence based in Colombia, believes that “it is crucial that those who investigate and document these crimes understand its impacts on victims and survivors, since currently the institutions and others who document these crimes make us believe that we are to blame for what happened to us”.
“In Colombia, sexual violence has been used as a mechanism to spread terror during an armed conflict. The Colombian government has recognized 28,641 victims of conflict-related sexual violence, 91% of whom are women and most have not reported for fear of being further stigmatised. Sexual violence is the only crime where victims’ testimony is questioned and, even when it is acknowledged that a rape has occurred, victims must prove that they did not cause it. These bad practices in the documentation and investigation of sexual violence generate feelings of guilt in victims and survivors, harm to their emotional health and re-traumatisation. For victims and for those of us who defend their rights, it is very important to have an instrument to generate changes in institutional practices of documentation and investigation of sexual violence” argues Pilar, a gender expert and defender of sexual violence victims’ rights and SEMA member from Colombia.
SEMA member Angela, a survivor of sexual violence from Colombia and coordinator of Red Mujeres Víctimas y Profesionales, adds that from her experience “as a victim and accompanying other victims, I can say that bad practices in documenting these crimes cause a tremendous loss of confidence in institutions and in others who document sexual violence. The way in which cases of conflict-related sexual violence are documented needs to be strengthened because otherwise victims will not feel comfortable and safe to speak out about what happened to them”.
As Nancy, a SEMA member and women’s rights activist from Colombia explains “the draft Murad Code proposes a protocol of ethics which seeks to put wartime sexual violence in the public agenda and bring justice to victims and survivors by ensuring that their rights are protected and upheld. This is a tool to prevent further stigmatisation of victims and survivors of sexual violence and it represents a major step forward in survivors’ fight for justice and accountability”.
SEMA, the Global Network of Victims and Survivors of Wartime Sexual Violence, encourages those who document, investigate, research and report on sexual violence in conflict to join us in this global collaborative initiative to finalise the Code and establish better documentation and investigation practices that put survivors at the centre of the process. The draft Murad Code is now available at www.muradcode.com. Please consider contributing with your comments and insights about the project.
“Through this global engagement we can make the Murad Code universal and owned by the community of practitioners who have helped to shape it.”