British 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 last week, calling for international peacekeepers to play a greater role in ending the use of warzone rape and sexual violence worldwide.
“As soldiers you understand the pain war inflicts on women and children, and why they must be protected,” Angelina told those gathered for the conference. "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.”
During their visit, Jolie and Hague met survivors of sexual violence still seeking justice for the crimes they endured during the Bosnian war (1992-1995), as well as the NGOs working to help them. They also met judges and prosecutors working to address the huge backlog of sexual violence cases.
During the conference, The Foreign Secretary announced UK funding for groundbreaking new training in preventing sexual violence in conflict, to equip troops who will be deployed on international peacekeeping and humanitarian operations. He also announced new UK funding that will enable 750 young people from Britain to visit Srebrenica over the next two years through the Remembering Srebrenica programme, so that the lessons from the Bosnian conflict are never forgotten.
Hague also announced UK assistance for Bosnia’s path towards EU membership, in the form of new funding to foster democratic governance in Bosnia by strengthening the judiciary, civil society organisations, transparency and supporting Bosnia’s EU accession process.
Hague and Jolie also met Bosnia’s Presidency, other political leaders and representatives from civil society including of the plenums set up following February’s protests, to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing Bosnia today.