Wednesday, 20 January 2021

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Angelina Jolie: “The empowerment of women should be the highest priority for the finest minds, in the best academic institutions”

Angelina Jolie LSE

11 February 2015 - A groundbreaking centre focused on women, peace and security officially opened this week at LSE by UN Special Envoy, Angelina Jolie. It will be a place where key thinkers, activists, policymakers and academics can gather together in order to better tackle intransigent global problems such as the prosecution of warzone rapists and women’s engagement in politics.

Former UK foreign secretary, William Hague announced that the UK government would provide £1m in support for the project from money recuperated after the Libor scandal. He described sexual violence in conflict as “a major factor in perpetuating conflict and holding back development”.

Historically, sexual violence in conflict has been tacitly accepted as unavoidable, with armies considering rape one of the legitimate spoils of war. During World War II, all sides of the conflict were accused of mass rapes, yet neither of the two courts set up by the victorious allied countries to prosecute suspected war crimes — in Tokyo and Nuremberg — recognized the crime of sexual violence.

It was not until 1992, in the face of widespread reports during the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, that the issue came to the attention of the UN Security Council. On 18 December 1992, the Council declared the "massive, organized and systematic detention and rape of women as an international crime that must be addressed.”

Early Progress

From 1993 outbreaks of sexual violence in the conflicts in Rwanda and Yugoslavia prompted their respective International Criminal Tribunals (ICTs) to introduce a sequence of measures which ranged from ICTR’s inclusion of rape as a crime against humanity in 1994, and the first ever prosecution of rape as a crime of genocide in 1998; to the ICTY’s expansion of the definition of slavery to include sexual slavery. Previously forced labour was the only form to be considered a crime against humanity.

Between 2000 and 2013 there were seven UN Security Council resolutions to help raise awareness and trigger action against sexual violence in conflict.

In 2007, the work of various UN agencies to combat sexual violence was put under one umbrella: UN Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict, uniting the work of 13 UN entities in order to facilitate large scale strategies.

Looking Ahead

And yet there is still a lot of work to be done in terms of understanding and combating sexual violence as a weapon of war. The stigmatization surrounding sexual violence means that the victim, rather than the rapist continues to be socially penalized by the community. Hague commented at the launch of the centre that sexual violence in conflict is “hardly talked about by foreign ministers or even considered a security issue”.

Angelina Jolie called for “the empowerment of women to be the highest priority for the finest minds, in the best academic institutions” - a goal which this new centre will help to facilitate.

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