THE actor and director Angelina Jolie-Pitt was a surprise
visitor when international faith leaders met in London on Monday to
debate their contribution to ending sexual violence in
The consultation, in Lancaster House, under the auspices of the
Foreign and Commonwealth Office, followed the summit last summer
13 June 2014), and brought together its two prime movers, Ms
Jolie-Pitt and the former Foreign Secretary William Hague, who is
now the Prime Minister's special representative on preventing
sexual violence in conflict.
They were joined by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Foreign
Office Minister Baroness Anelay, and the Parliamentary Under
Secretary of State for International Development, Baroness
The summit last year had made great strides in producing a
declaration that had since been endorsed by 155 states. Now, Mr
Hague said, "it is time to turn declarations and political
commitments into practical action that changes people's lives."
Mr Hague listed political and diplomatic initiatives that had
taken place since the June summit, and spoke of the deployment of
teams of experts to the Syrian borders, Bosnia, Mali, the DRC, and
Kosovo, to help local people investigate crimes, mount
prosecutions, and rehabilitate victims.
"These signs of unprecedented political will made me more
convinced than ever that it is possible for the world to act to
shatter impunity for the use of rape as a weapon of war, and to
change global attitudes to these crimes. And our ambition should
not be less than that: to change the entire global attitude to such
Of the task ahead, he said: "One of the biggest obstacles we
face is the widespread view that we simply can't do anything about
sexual violence in conflict - that it is an inevitable consequence
of war and insecurity, a problem that is simply too complex to
address. But this is orchestrated, man-made injustice. It is a
problem that is created by men, and that can be solved by men and
women acting together. . . I've always deeply admired the
unquenchable determination to succeed in a moral and humanitarian
cause that religion has often inspired."
Ms Jolie-Pitt spoke of visiting northern Iraq, "where women and
girls are systematically targeted by armed groups, including
"The intensity, the brutality of sexual violence is terrifying.
It is premeditated, organised, and brazen. It often involves
surrounding villages, separating out and killing men, busing out
the girls to be sold into slavery and torture. . . For all our
advances, the mass rape of women and children and men is still
seldom punished, and still carries little or no risk to the
She continued: "The tragedy is that this issue hardly features
in discussions about our strategy towards defeating ISIL, ending
conflict in Syria, and stabilising Iraq. Yet it is vital to our
success; and so I asking your help in highlighting around the world
the injustice and the urgency, the urgency of the situation."
Archbishop Welby said: "Sexual violence has always been a
feature of conflict. But it is becoming more and more systematic,
more and more deliberate, and the level of impunity has
Faith groups had to acknowledge their culpability.
"In the faith communities, we need to be very honest. Our record
has much to question it. And therefore the Churches and other faith
communities must also give evidence that they recognised their poor
history, and that, in recognising it, they come with repentance and
humility, about often not only what we've done, but our recent
silence on the issue, about gender discrimination, and on the
stigmatisation of survivors."
He, too, was conscious of the scale of the task. "To challenge
sexual violence in conflict we also have to challenge conflict
itself. The chaos of conflict makes impunity seem easy and
acceptable. The sheer chaos of the battlefield, the sense that
nobody knows what you're doing, and the fact that in conflict men
in particular do terrible things to each other, makes it easier to
do terrible things to civilians."
There was a need for moral and theological leadership. Many
governments made declarations and agreed policies. "As with all
policies, the question is: will there be effective
The task of the delegates at the consultation was to come up
with structures that would make non-implementation of such policies
more costly and more painful than implementation.
At the end of the two-day meeting, delegates agreed a new
declaration, which pledged: "As faith leaders, we commit ourselves
to take these actions:
• We will speak out against sexual and gender-based violence in
conflict at every opportunity
• We will take action together to promote human rights, and see
girls, women, boys, and men freed from the threat and impact of
sexual violence in conflict across the world.
• We will stand together in solidarity with all those affected
by sexual violence.
• We will promote the development and implementation of laws
that protect and promote justice to bring an end to sexual and
other forms of gender-based violence during and after conflict,
holding governments to account.
• We will strive to build peace and promote reconciliation,
challenging the internal and external causes of conflict.
• We will dedicate ourselves to finding lasting solutions;
mobilising leadership at all levels; and implementing these values
within our own faith community."