Vancouver, November 16 (The Guardian): In a forceful speech to United Nations peacekeeping officials assembled in Vancouver, Angeline Jolie called on international conflict negotiators to take their role in preventing and punishing sexual violence more seriously.
Calling sexual violence “a critical obstacle to achieving women’s equality and our full human rights”, Jolie asked those gathered to recognize sexual violence as a weapon and to play a part in preventing it.
“It is cheaper than a bullet, and it has lasting consequences that unfold with sickening predictability that make it so cruelly effective,” she said.
Her remarks came as part of her keynote address to the UN Peacekeeping Defense Ministerial Conference in Vancouver and amid several current conflicts which underscore how sexual violence can be weaponized, Jolie said.
She pointed to the mass displacement of Rohingya taking place in Myanmar. Almost every female refugee who has fled for makeshift camps in Bangladesh, the UN said, was a survivor of or witness to sexual violence, including rape.
“This is rape and assault designed to torture, to terrorize, to force people to flee, and to humiliate them. It has nothing to do with sex. It has everything to do with the abuse of power. It is criminal behavior.”
Jolie also made an oblique reference to the outpouring of sexual harassment allegations against powerful men in Hollywood and beyond – some of her first comments since she confirmed to the New York Times that she had had “a bad experience” with Harvey Weinstein that caused her to refuse to work with him and warn others to avoid the powerful producer.
“All too often, these kinds of crimes against women are laughed off, depicted as a minor offense by someone who cannot control themselves, as an illness, or as some kind of exaggerated sexual need,” she said. “But a man who mistreats women is not oversexed. He is abusive.”
She criticized international leaders for nevertheless treating rape and sexual assault as an inevitable product of violent conflict, rather than a central issue for peace negotiators to address and punish.
“Even if we accept that sexual violence has nothing to do with sex, that it is a crime, and that it is used as a weapon, many people still believe that it is simply not possible to do anything about it.
“It is hard, but it is not impossible. We have the laws, the institutions, and the expertise in gathering evidence. We are able to identify perpetrators. What is missing is the political will.”