Famed actress Angelina Jolie took up her lesser-known role of United Nations representative on Monday, promoting strong action against rape and sexual violence in war zones.
The fifteen-member United Nations Security Council met on Monday to hold an open debate on the use of sexual violence as a tool of warfare. Jolie was named as a Special Envoy of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in 2012, after previously serving as a Goodwill Ambassador to the body. On Monday, she appeared at the invitation of the United Kingdom to brief the Security Council on what she has seen and heard in her role when it comes to sexual violence in conflict.
Jolie told the Security Council to look beyond the vast numbers of men, women, and children who had been the victim of sexual violence, and instead remember that each of those numbers is “a person with a name, personality, a story, and dreams no different than ours and those of our children.” She went on to describe some of the stories she had heard in her time in refugee camps, including one from a woman in the Democratic Republic of the Congo whose five year-old had been raped in plain-view of a police station. A Syrian woman Jolie met with in her visit to a refugee camp in Jordan last week asked that her name and face be withheld so as to not to provoke future reprisals against her, Jolie told the Council.
“The United Nations charter is clear that you, the Security Council, have primary responsibility for the maintenence of international peace and security,” Jolie reminded the body, scorning the lack of prosecution of rapists among the ranks militaries and militias and the low priority the international community had given the issue. “Rape as a weapon of war is an assault on security and a world in which these crimes happen is one in which there is not, and never will be, peace,” she said. Refusal to act, Jolie stressed, is not an option:
JOLIE: I understand there are many things that it is difficult for the Security Council to agree on, but sexual violence in conflict should not be one of them. That it is a crime to rape young children is not something anyone in this room would not be able to agree on. […] That young Syrian rape victim is here because you represent her. That five year-old child in the Congo must count because you represent her. And in her eyes, if her attacker gets away with his crimes, it is because you have allowed it. You set the bar. If the United Nations Security 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.
Soon after Jolie finished, the Council voted unanimously to approve a U.S.-drafted resolution on the topic. British Foreign Secretary William Hague, who chaired the morning’s session, praised the passage of the resolution, noting the progress that has been made to date on the matter. “The lead we set and the action we take … has the potential to save lives and change the course of events around the world, and nothing less than that should be out ambition,” Hague said in his role as the United Kingdom’s representative.
Rape and sexual violence in times of war are currently considered war crimes under international law, a standing that the international community has sought to enforce more seriously in recent years. In April, the G-8 countries issued a declaration on preventing sexual sexual violence in conflict.