US actress Angelina Jolie appealed for a change in attitude on a topic she said has been taboo for too long, bringing the power of her celebrity to an international summit to stop sexual violence in conflict zones.
Opening the four-day London summit on Tuesday, the Hollywood star spoke with passion and conviction, recalling her meetings with rape victims who struggle with injustice and stigma long after their countries have emerged from conflict.
“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, to cheers from the audience.
“We need to shatter that culture of impunity.”
Jolie and British Foreign Secretary William Hague are co-hosting the event, billed as the largest such gathering on the subject ever. Diplomats, officials and non-profit representatives from more than 100 countries gathered to press for the rights of victims – both women and men alike.
Echoing Jolie’s words, Hague called sexual violence “a moral issue for our generation.”
“As was said with slavery in the 18th century, now we know the facts, we cannot turn aside,” he said.
Others far afield also offered support. Pope Francis, who has made combating sex trafficking and human slavery one of his priorities, sent a tweet on Tuesday to encourage the summit’s outcome, saying “Let us pray for all victims of sexual violence in conflict, and those working to end this crime.”
Hague and Jolie are set to launch a guidance document on best practices on Wednesday to help strengthen prosecutions for rape in conflicts. The document also aims to help train soldiers and peacekeepers to deal with the issue.
The pair have campaigned hard on the issue for two years, and were welcomed with cheers from others fighting for the cause.
With the cameras of the world focused on her, Jolie urged her audience to demand change. Having travelled to conflict zones from Afghanistan to Somalia as a UN envoy, she said she wanted others to share in what she had learned, and dedicated the conference to a rape victim she and Hague recently met in Bosnia.
“She felt that having had no justice for her particular crime, in her particular situation, and having seen the actual man who raped her on the streets free, she really felt abandoned by the world,” Jolie said.
“This day is for her.”