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Arts and Culture

Angelina Jolie Imagines a World in Which Rape in War Zones Can Be Stopped

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Posted on Jun 10, 2014

  Video still from BBC News.

It all sounded very inspiring, the vision that actress Angelina Jolie presented during her opening speech in London on Tuesday at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict.

As British Foreign Secretary William Hague, co-chair of the four-day conference, looked on, Jolie invited the audience to join in their goal of eradicating rape and other forms of sexual assault in war zones. “We must send a message around the world that there is no disgrace in being a survivor of sexual violence, and the shame is on the aggressor,” she said. “We must work together in new and unprecedented ways across borders, and religions, bringing governments and people together and tackling the problem from every possible angle. And by doing this we can end the use of rape and sexual violence as a weapon of war once and for all. We really can do it.”

Perhaps the goal of the conference was to aim so high as to verge on hyperbole. But putting aside the somewhat curious couching of the issue—which, when read a certain way, might appear to give “war” a categorical pass while targeting “rape” as a particularly unconscionable abomination that could somehow be isolated and surgically removed from the encompassing context of “war”—Jolie, who serves as the Special Envoy for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, seemed genuine in her conviction that this worldwide initiative was based on an achievable guiding premise.

As the BBC reported that day, the first step in the campaign involved drawing attention to the targeted issue—and Jolie, by dint of her brand of celebrity advocacy, is uniquely situated to guarantee massive publicity for any cause, movie, designer or beauty product she touches (or with which she might somehow be associated):

The event—the largest ever of its kind—is the result of an intense two-year campaign to raise awareness.

Mr Hague said rape was one of the “great mass crimes” of modern times.

He called on the more than 140 nations at the summit to write action against sexual violence into their army training.

[...] The organisers want the event to be the moment the world wakes up and declares that sexual violence is not an inevitable part of war, says BBC World Affairs Correspondent Paul Adams.

Certainly protocol can be implemented and leaders of worldwide military forces, their subordinates, and the perpetrators of rape and other atrocities in war zones could be made accountable according to specific standards, which the summit’s organizers did address in detail. Jolie and Hague’s efforts in recent months have also produced a Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, which has been backed by 141 countries.

But considering how rape is inherently bound up in just the kind of power relations that are exploited in anarchic war zones, and upon which war is predicated, this kind of project starts to look like yet another inviting projection, albeit with high production value, straight out of Hollywood.

—Posted by Kasia Anderson


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