25 Mar 2013

Warzone rape: Angelina Jolie and William Hague fly to Africa


Angelina Jolie and William Hague fly into the Democratic Republic of Congo as part of their battle against the use of rape as a weapon of war.

Angelina Jolie and William Hague have embarked on a mission to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda to fight rape as a weapon of war (picture: Reuters)

On the face of it, they’re an unlikely couple. The foreign secretary from Rotherham, and the actress from Hollywood. But William Hague and Angelina Jolie have paired up because they share a determination to stop rape being used as a weapon of war.

On Sunday they flew to the Democratic Republic of Congo where they are meeting survivors of sexual violence, and are speaking to doctors and lawyers about what can be done to heal the victims and bring the perpetrators to justice. After DRC they will head to Rwanda.

I am travelling with them, and will be filing reports and interviews this week.

Blood and honey

Ms Jolie’s film In the Land of Blood and Honey, which brought tales of warzone rape in Bosnia to the silver screen, inspired the foreign secretary to campaign on the issue. He’s now made it a priority for Britain’s G8 presidency, which began at the start of the year.

The numbers of women and girls – and more rarely men and boys – thought to have been victims of sexual violence around the world show why action is so urgent.

50,000 raped in Bosnia, 64,000 in Sierra Leone, 200,000 in Congo, 400,000 in Rwanda.

Watch more: Angelina Jolie - why I can't stay silent on warzone rape

But what exactly can Mr Hague and Ms Jolie hope to achieve? Well, the government’s already pledged £1m to help UN efforts to secure justice for victims. And it’s put together a 70-strong team of police, lawyers, psychologists, doctors and forensic experts to gather evidence of rape committed in warzones.

Justice has so far been in very short supply. Only 30 people were convicted of sexual crimes after the Bosnian war for example.

So the resources may help. Mr Hague’s decision to lead the campaign, and Ms Jolie’s high-profile backing of it should also raise awareness, and, it must be hoped, shame governments around the world into action.


There are doubters, of course. Some query if this campaign will outlast Britain’s G8 presidency – though the Foreign Office insists it will. There are questions about how difficult it might be to track down and prosecute the perpetrators, and why it’s taken so long to attempt to do so. Why, for example, did the United Nations appear powerless to stop the M23 rebel group raping women as it marched on Goma last autumn?

There are also concerns about whether victims who in some instances have been painfully mutilated would be able to cope with the stress of court cases.

I’ll be asking Mr Hague and Ms Jolie these and other questions over the course of the next few days.

Vanity project?

But to those who may be cynical about the presence of a Hollywood star on the trip, I’ve got an answer already. This is not a vanity project for Ms Jolie.

A glance at her humanitarian work to date may leave you wondering how she ever finds time for her acting.

For more than a decade she’s been visiting refugee camps around the world. She’s done so in more than 40 countries. A UN special envoy, she’s also set up numerous foundations and partnerships to fund humanitarian causes worldwide.

And if anyone wonders if she’ll receive special treatment on this trip, I’m assured the answer is no. She’ll be travelling without an entourage, and sharing the same accommodation and travel arrangements as the rest of us.

Her mission, she’s said in the past, is to raise awareness of forgotten emergencies, and to “move the ball” – spurring governments into action.

She’s succeeded in getting the ball moving with the UK government. Now, others around the world are being urged to pick it up and run with it.