Vicky Spratt | Deputy Editor | Wednesday, 9 September 2015

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Angelina Jolie Tells Parliament About Isis Rape 'Policy'

The Debrief: Yesterday Angelina Jolie said that Isis atrocities show the need to tackle sexual violence in conflict and urged politicians to take action

It’s not often that you find Hollywood stars in the House Of Lords where the average member is 69 years old. So you can imagine the scrum yesterday when Angelina Jolie arrived to talk to the committee on sexual violence and war about the use of rape as a weapon. 

In her capacity as UN special envoy, Jolie warned the committee that the Islamic State are using rape as a weapon to terrorise and destroy communities. ‘They are dictating it as policy… beyond what we have ever seen before’. A recent Channel 4 Dispatches Escape From Isis shed some light on the sheer scale of the situation. 

Rape is one of the biggest weapons of war internationally and is currently affecting women, men and children in at least a hundred countries around the world. Last year, Jolie and the former UK Foreign Secretary, William Hague, hosted a global summit in London attended by representatives from those countries, aimed at raising awareness. 

Hague said rape should ‘shame all men’ and insisted that it is possible to combat the problem. ‘These are crimes that are committed almost exclusively by men’ he said, adding that ‘men and male world leaders have a crucial role to play in tackling this issue.’

Jolie was keen to point out that rape should not be seen as a ‘sexual’ act but as ruthless. When asked by the committee what the root causes of the problem were she said: ‘I think the most important thing to understand it what it’s not. It’s not sexual. It is a violent, brutal, terrorising weapon.’ She lamented: ‘Unfortunately, it is everywhere, in and out of conflict in every country, basically. I can’t think of one where there is not this issue.’

She spoke about reports that ISIS was saying to its fighters: ‘We ask you to rape.’ ‘ISIS knows what we know’ she continued, ‘that it is a very effective weapon. And they are using it as the centrepoint of their terror… destroying communities and families, and attacking and dehumanizing.’

Her key point was that the lack of punishment for the perpetrators of rape and justice for victims of rape is sadly ‘also very common’. ‘Everywhere you go’ she said ‘you meet women and men who talk about what it’s done to their communities… about what it’s done to their lives.’

She spoke about a 13-year-old Iraqi girl had been repeatedly raped along with her friends. ‘They told me that what was even worse than the physical violence was that they then had to stand in rooms and watch their friends be sold and to hear about what they were worth,’ she said. ‘Were they worth $40? $50? What was their value?… It made her question what she was worth.’

According to BBC reporter, Shelley Phelps, who was in the room, Jolie also acknowledged that while she could use her global reach to raise awareness it is ‘policy’ that ‘needs to change’. Jolie said the people working in war zones on this issue were her ‘heroes’ but insisted ‘laws need to change, policies need to change, governments and leaderships need to come together and that will make real change.’ 

Both Jolie and Hague argued that tackling rape in conflict should be an ‘essential part of a foreign policy that seeks peace and security in the world’ and not talked about as an aside. 

Rape is not a byproduct of conflict but a key weapon of war used to damage communities and lives. Since their summit last year, 155 countries (three quarters of the UN) have signed a declaration of commitment on the issue. 

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