The UK is taking a leading role in the fight against sexual violence, but historic crimes should not be forgotten

We cannot stand by and allow historic acts of sexual violence, often from many decades ago, to be ignored, says Jack Straw, International Ambassador for Justice for Lai Dai Han and former UK Foreign Secretary.

Justice for Lai Dai Han

In December 2018, Lord Tariq Ahmad, the Prime Minister’s Special Representative for Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict, announced that the UK would commit an additional £500,000 to the UK’s aid effort to support victims of sexual violence around the world.

The additional funding will mean that more experts can be deployed to conflict zones, such as Syria, Nigeria and Myanmar, to gather evidence and provide training.

The UK is also urging countries around the world to sign up to the ‘Murad Code’, which sets out the standards of behaviour for government bodies, NGOs and aid workers when gathering evidence of sexual violence from conflict zones for courts. This is an essential step which will see more offenders brought to justice.

The UK’s commitment to bringing the perpetrators of sexual violence to justice and to provide support to the victims is unwavering. However, we cannot stand by and allow historic acts of sexual violence, often from many decades ago, to be ignored.

Knowing that the international community will do what it can to make sure justice is served regardless of how long ago a rape might have taken place is a significant deterrent. Not only that, but we owe it to the victims to ensure they are allowed closure and peace. This is even more important for victims towards the end of their lives.

Numerous counts of sexual violence were recorded during the Vietnam War. In January, the Justice for Lai Dai Han (JLDH) campaign hosted a reception in the UK Parliament to raise awareness of the Vietnamese victims of rape by South Korean soldiers. Their stories were heart breaking. But regretfully, the South Korean government has never acknowledged the allegations and has never investigated.  This is odd. The South Korean Government have successfully secured an official apology from the Japanese Government in respect of the way that Korean women were similarly treated during the Second World War. The JLDH campaign draws on this fine example.

In recent days, a number of women and their children sent an open letter addressed to President Moon Jae-In of South Korea, calling for the Government of South Korea to acknowledge the allegations of widespread sexual assaults against Vietnamese girls – some as young 13 or 14 – by South Korean soldiers.

JLDH believes there are as many as 800 victims still alive today. Sadly, many others will have passed away already. Their children, known as the Lai Dai Han, are dual-heritage Korean-Vietnamese, and many are campaigning for their mothers and in search of their Korean fathers. More than 50 Lai Dai Han recently offered to provide DNA samples and blood tests which can be compared with the South Korean Government’s database of its soldiers to prove their heritage.

Whilst the acts of sexual violence against these women were committed by individual soldiers, we believe it is only right that the governments of Vietnam and South Korea publicly support an independent investigation carried out by a major international body, such as the United Nations Human Rights Council. If we do not make progress on this now, it could be too late for many of the victims. Many may pass believing that to the international community, their suffering is not important and has been resigned to the pages of history.

On 11th June, JLDH is hosting a reception to unveil the ‘Mother & Child’ sculpture at Church House in Westminster. This beautiful artwork, designed by Rebecca Hawkins, will serve as a memorial to all victims of sexual violence around the world. It depicts a mother and child with different roots trapped by a Strangler Fig tree, a plant native to Vietnam, which is wrapping its branches around them, refusing to let them go. It is a fitting a memorial that depicts the juxtaposition between a tragic incident and the strong bond of love shared by mother and child.

The event will be hosted by Nadia Murad, the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize winner, and will include talks from some of the leading voices in combatting sexual violence in conflict.

After the unveiling event, the sculpture will go on display at the Gallery at 10 Hanover Street near Oxford Circus. We hope that you will have the opportunity to visit the sculpture and join us in our call for the Vietnamese victims of sexual violence to be recognised.

Jack Straw is International Ambassador for Justice for Lai Dai Han and former UK Foreign Secretary.

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To register your attendance at the unveiling event with Nadia Murad at Church House on June 11th, please click here.