Legendary actress and UN special envoy, Angelina Jolie, has teamed up with British Foreign Secretary William Hague in order to bring an end to sexual violence during times of war. The two conducted a four-day summit in London last week in order to raise awareness and to bring an end to such crimes.
The summit is the result of two years of work at the hands of Jolie and Hague who have travelled internationally to meet those who have suffered. In her opening statements at the End Sexual Violence in Conflict summit, Jolie spoke of a woman she’d met in Bosnia who still deals with the shame over what has happened to her — so much so that she has yet to tell her own son.
The conference included over 100 events open to the public that were meant to make all people aware of what is going on in war zones and to make them acknowledge it. Many governments have claimed to not know how to confront these issues, but with the information now so readily available, no longer can this be used as an excuse. “You can’t say you don’t know how to approach it anymore,” says Jolie. A comprehensive manual has been assembled with the help of several experts so that governments can know exactly what should be done when this problem arises.
Another issue is not having documentation of the rapes that are occurring in war zones. Without this evidence, prosecution is far more difficult, and lack of prosecution is making wartime rape an unpunishable crime. Turning a blind eye solves nothing and, in fact, begins to condone these vile acts.
Contrary to popular belief, this issue is anything but new. Hague admits that the subject was brought to his attention by Jolie’s directorial debut In the Land of Blood and Honey (2011). The film takes place during the Bosnian war 20 years ago where some 50,000 women were raped. It certainly is not only subject to women and children, though. For decades men have been victims of sexual torture while being held captive.
Journalist Jineth Bedoya Lima, who suffered sexual violence during a conflict in Colombia, spoke at the conference, saying, “For the first time in history, a world summit highlights and denounces a crime that is normally made invisible and is often silenced by the majority of states.”
This issue of allowing sexual abuse and torture to take place during times of conflict is one that has been swept under the rug for far too long. Men, women, and children alike have been and continue to be bought, sold, and used against their will. Who is anyone to decide what another’s life is worth? To put an actual price tag on another human being? It is time to bring an end to sexual violence, and, thankfully, there are people like Jolie and Hague who are ready to stand up, take a stance, and speak for those who have been too afraid to speak for themselves. Jolie says, “…sorrow and compassion are not enough.” Now is the time to act.
Watch Jolie give her opening speech to the summit here: