Press release

Foreign Secretary and Angelina Jolie address military conference

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Foreign Secretary and Angelina Jolie address military conference in Bosnia, call for end to rape as a weapon of war.

Foreign Secretary William Hague and Ms Angelina Jolie at the launch of the UK initiative on preventing sexual violence in conflict, 29 May 2012.
William Hague and Angelina Jolie at the launch of the UK initiative on preventing sexual violence in conflict, May 2012.

The Foreign Secretary The Rt Hon William Hague MP, and the Special Envoy of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Angelina Jolie addressed senior officers and officials at a regional military conference in Sarajevo today, calling for international peacekeepers to play a greater role in ending the use of warzone rape and sexual violence worldwide. The conference is part of a visit to Bosnia ten weeks ahead of the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, which they will chair in London on 11-13 June 2014. The transcripts of the speeches are below:

The Foreign Secretary said:

Thank you Deputy Defence Minister for that kind introduction.

Ladies and Gentleman, Excellencies, I am delighted to be here in Sarajevo for this Conference.

The subject that you are discussing today, the prevention of wartime sexual violence, is the objective as you know of a global campaign that I launched in May 2012 with UN High Commissioner for Refugees Special Envoy Angelina Jolie.

Our Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative was partly inspired by the Special Envoy’s film, Land of Blood and Honey, which tells the story of a woman caught up in the war in Bosnia and shows the way sexual violence was used against tens of thousands of victims during that conflict.

So Bosnia was at the origins of our global campaign, and it is that campaign that brings us back here this week. We want to help Bosnia overcome the painful legacy of conflict, to help survivors of sexual violence find the justice they are still waiting for, and to harness the expertise of this country and this region to help eliminate these crimes across the world. What you will understand as soldiers, and as people who have lived through this region’s wars, is that sexual violence is not just a side-effect or inevitable consequence of conflict. In an era when civilians are increasingly the targets of military action, and its principal victims, sexual violence is used deliberately as a weapon of war. It is a cheap, it is easily deployable and it is devastatingly effective way to terrorise, torture and displace civilian populations.

We see it used today in Syria, in Central African Republic and in South Sudan. Bosnian peacekeepers will have witnessed its terrible impact in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Croatian and Montenegrin troops have no doubt seen its aftermath in Liberia.

Wherever it occurs, warzone rape is a moral outrage, a grave breach of the Geneva conventions and a serious threat to international peace and security.

It is one cause of major refugee flows that destabilise neighbouring countries and require a massive international response. It can create a legacy of mistrust and a sense of injustice that fuels tension and increases the risk of a relapse into conflict. It can do more lasting damage to recovery and development than any number of bombed roads or broken bridges.

Operating as we do in a networked world, where instability and injustice in one country rapidly affects us all, sexual violence in conflict is a threat that none of us can afford to ignore. But tackling this threat takes more than just being aware of the problem, it requires all of us to change our attitudes and take practical steps.

It requires Foreign Ministers to look at conflict prevention and peace-building in a new light. It requires justice systems and police forces to find new ways to support witnesses and to give crimes of sexual violence the priority that they deserve. It requires peacekeepers to acquire new skills and adopt new tactics.

As contributors of peace-keeping troops and police for the United Nations and NATO operations, you have an absolutely essential role to play.

Peacekeepers are on the front line in the battle against sexual violence and not only when they find themselves in live conflict areas. Often sexual violence continues even when the guns have gone silent, used as a cowardly tool to settle scores or undermine the peace. Sometimes it takes place under the very noses of the international community in camps for internally displaced people and refugees.

Preventing and responding to these crimes is essential to the fundamental mission of any peace-keeping force, which is to protect civilians.

Yet because rape has unjustly been considered a ‘lesser’ crime, a less important crime, because it has only recently been understood as a method of warfare, and because an unfair stigma keeps victims silent, peace-keeping forces have only just begun to consider preventing sexual violence as part of their mandate and their responses to it are still evolving.

So I am very pleased to announce today to announce that the UK will support Sarajevo’s Peace Support Operations Training Centre in developing new training modules on preventing sexual violence that can then be integrated into your training courses for military and police peace-keepers.

This work will harness your awareness and experience of these issues and build expertise here in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It will have an international impact, because the Peace Support Operations Training Centre trains troops and police from across the region and beyond, with instructors from Albania, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia. It will give service men and women the skills to make a real difference in their peace-keeping work, skills which they can share with the other armed forces and police they serve alongside United Nations Missions.

It will also pave the way next year for a Mobile Training Team that can deliver training to peace-keeping forces on their mission, and to others who want to benefit from your experience.

Above all, it will put Bosnia in the vanguard of international militaries who are addressing the prevention of sexual violence in their peace-keeping efforts, and it deserves the strong support of the region and the international community.

Increased military efforts to prevent and respond to sexual violence in conflict will be one of the priorities of the Global Summit that I will be co-hosting with the Special Envoy Angelina Jolie in London in June.

The Summit will build on the momentum of our intensive two-year long campaign so far. It will raise global awareness to a new level, it will strengthen political commitment, and it will set in motion a wave of new practical actions to eradicate sexual violence in conflict once and for all.

We have invited Ministers from every country in the Balkans and many military representatives, and I thank Foreign Minister Pusic for her efforts as a champion of our initiative and Foreign Minister Lagumdzija for his strong support. I hope we can rely on all of your countries’ active participation in what will be the largest Summit ever held on this issue.

No one government or institution can end warzone rape and sexual violence on our own. It will require all of our determined efforts and we have much further to go. But it is immensely encouraging to see the armed forces here in Bosnia, which itself has suffered so grievously from this crime, seriously addressing this issue.

I thank the Bosnian Ministry of Defence for hosting us today and the Norwegian Embassy for their generous support.

I hope we can all work together to prevent the horrors seen in this region from being repeated in future conflicts anywhere in the world, and I wish you well for the rest of today’s Conference.

Thank you very much.

Angelina Jolie said:

It is wonderful to be back in Sarajevo, and a real privilege to be speaking to you today: Soldiers from a region that has come through a terrible war, who are now helping to keep peace in other nations. As soldiers you understand the pain war inflicts on women and children, and why they must be protected. For many people in Bosnia the world’s help came too late. I know how deeply you feel this. The Responsibility to Protect arose in part from that bitter experience.

So it is inspiring that it is here in Bosnia, that international peacekeepers are being trained to protect civilians from sexual violence.

This is groundbreaking.

Warzone rape has been a taboo subject in all countries.

You are helping to break down those taboos, and redefining soldiering in the 21st century.

For there can be no peace while women in conflict or post-conflict zones are raped with impunity.

And peacekeeping requires a strong bond of trust with local communities.

That can only exist if they feel that your presence in their country makes them safer.

So this training will support you and make your missions more successful.

For a long time it has been assumed that rape simply happens in war. But you in the military know there is much more to it.

In wars today civilians are not just caught in the crossfire, they are very often the primary target.

The firebombing of playgrounds, the dropping of barrel bombs, the shelling of hospitals – these are designed to terrorise defenceless communities.

The use of rape of as a weapon of war is one of the most harrowing and savage of these crimes against civilians.

This is rape so brutal, with such extreme violence, that it is even hard to talk about it.

It often involves gang-rape, torture and mutilation.

It is carried out in the presence of relatives, in order to break families apart.

The attackers often single out the very young or the very old, to cause the greatest shame and suffering.

Men and young boys are targeted too, for the same reason.

Rape is used as a tool of war because it is so destructive, and because the perpetrators get away with it.

Stopping it has to be a priority for every peacekeeping mission.

Until now war has meant that thousands of people are raped. Your goal as peacekeepers should be to prevent any woman, man or child from being raped.

I know that to do that, you need to have the right training, the right resources, and the right mandate – from your governments and from the United Nations.

Foreign Secretary Hague and I are working on that, with the UN and the governments of 141 countries.

But helping vulnerable women and children in insecure environments will often come down to you.

At times, you may be all that stands between a child and violence that will scar him or her forever.

You may sometimes be the first person outside their family that a survivor of rape encounters.

You may well operate in situations where some of the worst rapes are carried out by armed men, some even in uniform.

Your actions may make the difference between a successful prosecution, or aggressors going unpunished.

The patrols you carry out can mean that women no longer have to face a choice between going out for firewood and water and being raped, or seeing their children go hungry.

Your presence can mean families are able to send their children to school; and victims are able to seek justice.

You can set an example to the Armed Forces of other nations of what being a soldier means, and help to teach them positive attitudes towards women.

In all of these things you are role models, as well as standard bearers of your country.

I hope you will take this with inspiration – as I do.

It is within our power to end the use of rape as a weapon of war: to change the lives of millions of people, and to transform international peace and security.

It is within our power.

As ever, you are on the front-line – risking your lives to do what is essential.

So it is an honour to be here, and thank you very much for your work.

Further information

Find out more about the visit to Bosnia

Follow news of the UK’s work to End Sexual Violence in Conflict on Twitter @end_svc and #TimeToAct and Facebook

Follow the Foreign Secretary on twitter @WilliamJHague

Follow the Foreign Office on twitter @foreignoffice

Follow the Foreign Office on facebook and Google+

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Published 28 March 2014