Angelina Jolie made her debut before the UN’s most powerful body as a special envoy for refugees on Monday and urged the world’s nations to make the fight against rape in war a top priority.
The actress told the Security Council that “hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of women, children and men have been raped in conflicts in our lifetimes.”
Jolie, a goodwill ambassador for the UN high commissioner for refugees, said the Security Council has witnessed 67 years of wars and conflict since it was established “but the world has yet to take up warzone rape as a serious priority.”
“You set the bar,” she told the council. “If the ... council sets rape and sexual violence in conflict as a priority it will become one and progress will be made. If you do not, this horror will continue.”
British Foreign Secretary William Hague, who presided over the meeting, stressed that “in conflicts in nearly every corner of the globe, rape is used systematically and ruthlessly, in the almost certain knowledge that there will be no consequences for the perpetrators.”
Soon after Jolie spoke, the council adopted a legally-binding resolution demanding the complete and immediate cessation of all acts of sexual violence by all parties to armed conflict. It noted that sexual violence can constitute a crime against humanity and a contributing act to genocide, called for improved monitoring of sexual violence in conflict, and urged the UN and donors to assist survivors.
It was the broadest resolution adopted by the council on the sexual violence in conflict. Hague said Britain plans to follow-up by convening a global gathering during the annual General Assembly meeting of world leaders in September to keep up the pressure for action.
Hague said at a discussion later at the Ford Foundation that his prime motivation for pressing for global action against sexual violence was the 1990s war in Bosnia, partly because of an adviser but also because of Jolie’s 2011 film, “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” about former lovers who end up on the opposite sides of the conflict. He said he arranged the film’s British premiere at the Foreign Office and has been campaigning with Jolie since then, including a visit to Congo in March, “to move the stigma and the shame from the victim to the perpetrator.”
“The time has come for the world to take a strong and determined stand to make clear that the systematic use of rape as a weapon is not acceptable in the modern world and our objective is to change the entire global attitude to these issues,” Hague said.
Getting the whole world talking about sexual violence in conflict and the need to punish perpetrators not victims “will shift attitudes — maybe over a period of years, but we have begun,” he said.
Jolie, who has traveled extensively in her role as goodwill ambassador, recalled several of the survivors she had met — the mother of a five-year-old girl raped outside a police station in Goma in eastern Congo, and a Syrian woman she spoke to in Jordan last week who asked to hide her name and face “because she knew that if she spoke out about the crimes against her she would be attacked again, and possibly killed.”
“Let us be clear what we are speaking of: Young girls raped and impregnated before their bodies are able to carry a child, causing fistula,” Jolie said, referring to an injury caused by violent rapes that tear apart the flesh separating the bladder and rectum from the vagina, leaving the girls unable to control their bowels or bladder.
She continued: “Boys held at gunpoint and forced to sexually assault their mothers and sisters. Women raped with bottles, wood branches and knives to cause as much damage as possible. Toddlers and even babies dragged from their homes, and violated.”
Zainab Hawa Bangura, the UN special envoy on sexual violence in conflict, told the council that two weeks ago she visited Bosnia where an estimated 50,000 women were victims of rape and other forms of sexual violence during the war, but only a handful of perpetrators have been prosecuted.
Later, at the Ford Foundation, she said that on an African trip with Hague, she visited the village of Mambasa in eastern Congo’s Ituri district where 11 babies aged 6 to 12 months had been raped, 59 children aged 1 to 3 years old had been raped and 182 girls aged 5 to 15 years old had been raped.
“Who will rape a baby?,” Bangura asked. “It means you want to wipe the community away. That’s the only explanation you can have.”
Jolie pleaded with the Security Council — and all countries — to implement the resolution and not let the issue drop.
“Meet your commitments, debate this issue in your parliaments, mobilize people in your countries, and build it into all your foreign policy efforts,” she urged. “Together, you can turn the tide of global opinion, shatter impunity and finally put an end to this abhorrence.”
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon paid tribute to Jolie for being the voice of millions forced to flee their homes “and now for the many survivors of wartime rape whose bodies have been used as battlegrounds.”
He called on all leaders to apprehend and prosecute perpetrators “and be part of a global coalition of champions determined to break this evil.”