LONDON: Hollywood star Angelina Jolie said yesterday that a global summit to end sexual violence in wars must send the message that there is “no disgrace” in being a rape survivor and that “the shame is on the aggressor”.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said at the opening of the four-day conference in London that it was only a “weak or inadequate man” that abuses women — a statement that drew cheers from the crowd.
The conference is the fruit of a two-year campaign by UN special envoy Jolie and Hague, who have visited the Democratic Republic of Congo and Bosnia to meet victims of rape during wars.
In her opening remarks to the End Sexual Violence in Conflict summit, Jolie said she and Hague had met a woman in Bosnia who was still too ashamed to tell her son that she had been raped. “This day is for her,” said Jolie. “We believe it truly is a summit like no other.”
In a speech greeted by rapturous applause, Jolie said: “We must send a message around the world that there is no disgrace in being a survivor of sexual violence, that the shame is on the aggressor.”
She said it is a “myth” that rape was inevitable in war. “There is nothing inevitable about it — it is a weapon of war aimed at civilians. It has nothing to do with sex, everything to do with power,” the A Mighty Heart star said.
Jolie said she had met rape survivors in countries including Afghanistan and Somalia, and they are “just like us, with one crucial difference”. “We live in safe countries with doctors we can go to when we’re hurt, police we can turn to when we’re wronged, and institutions that protect us,” she said. “They live in refugee camps, on bombed-out streets, in areas where there is no law, no protection, and not even the hope of justice.”
Jolie said the international community needs to work to make “justice the norm”. She called for the prevention of rape in conflict to be incorporated into the training of all armies, peacekeeping troops and police forces. “This whole subject has been taboo for far too long,” she said.
Jolie said the stigma causes survivors to suffer feelings of “shame” and “worthlessness”. “It feeds ignorance, such as the notion that rape has anything to do with normal sexual impulses,” she said. “But most of all it allows the rapist to get away with it. They feel above the law because the law rarely touches them and society tolerates them.”
Hague announced that Britain will pledge a further £6m ($10m) to help survivors of sexual violence in conflict.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, who will attend the conference on Friday, said delegates from 117 countries wanted to “relegate sexual violence to the annals of history”. The summit includes 150 events open to the public in what the organisers hope will be a giant exercise in raising awareness.
Almost 150 governments have endorsed a declaration of commitment to end sexual violence in conflict. Organisers also want to increase and improve the documentation of rape in war zones to allow more prosecutions to be brought.
Liesl Gerntholtz, of Human Rights Watch, said that while most victims were women and girls, “there’s an emerging body of research and documentation that certainly shows that men have been targeted”.
Today, Hague and Jolie will launch an international protocol of proposals. On the sidelines of the summit, Hague will chair a ministerial meeting on security in northern Nigeria in the wake of the kidnap of hundreds of schoolgirls by the Al-Qaeda-linked Boko Haram movement.