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Spotlight on sexual violence in conflict

April 23, 2019

Germany, with the support of actor and activist Angelina Jolie, has forwarded a UN Security Council resolution addressing rape in conflicts — a subject central to one of Germany's best-known wartime novels.

Angelina Jolie in a head veil, speaking ot young children in refugee camp
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Santiago Escobar-Jaramillo/UNHCR

In an op-ed published in The Washington Post Monday, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and actor and activist Angelina Jolie, wrote that the intention of opening the subject up for debate was to address the impunity for perpetrators. The resolution, for which there will be a high-level debate Tuesday featuring Nobel Peace Prize winners Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad, aims for a three-pronged approach to addressing the crimes: "Urging targeted sanctions on those who perpetrate and direct violence, anchoring the topic in an informal working group and laying out an inclusive, survivor-centered approach."

Read moreAngelina Jolie and Germany's Maas demand action on sexual violence

A topic close to home

The subject has been at the center of a debate in Germany that has gone on for several decades. Originally published in 1959, the book A Woman in Berlin detailed the rape of German women in the closing days of World War II and its aftermath.

"And this mass rape is something we are overcoming collectively as well. All the women help each other, by speaking about it, airing their pain and allowing others to air theirs and spit out what they've suffered," the anonymous diarist and author wrote in an entry dated May 8, 1945.

Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad holding the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize
Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad received the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize for their work with survivors of sexual violenceImage: NTB Scanpix/Haakon Mosvold Larsen/Reuters

After negative publicity, the book went out of print and wasn't released again until after the author's death in 2003. This time, however, A Woman in Berlin landed on the bestseller list and, having been made into an award-winning film in 2008, reopened public dialogue on what had long been a taboo issue within Germany.

Read moreAnonymous: 'A Woman in Berlin' 

Jolie's long-term activism

Actor and activist Angelina Jolie has long been advocating for victims of rape and other forms of sexual violence in war zones. She directed the movie, In the Land of Blood and Honey, released in 2011, a fictionalized account of the use of rape as a weapon of war during the war in Yugoslavia. In 2012, she acted as Special Envoy of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and used her time in the role to draw attention to the cause.

Women stnading in front of a building in film still from In the Land of Blood and Honey
Jolie addressed sexual violence against women in her movie, "In the Land of Blood and Honey"Image: AP

"In many conflicts, sexual violence is used as a tactic of war, intended to hurt not only a single individual, but their family, their community, their ethnic group. Today this has almost become a rule rather than an exception, and we all must work together to combat the impunity and ensure justice for the victims," she said at a conference addressing the issue.

Read moreAngelina Jolie spearheads London summit against rape in war zones

Jolie went on to co-found thePreventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative, which claims as its mission that it "aims to raise awareness of the extent of sexual violence against women, men, girls and boys in situations of armed conflict and rally global action to end it," in 2014 and remains an active supporter of programs and government initiatives addressing the issue. Earlier this year, she traveled to Cox's Bazaar in Bangladesh to meet with Rohingya refugee survivors of sexual violence.

'A Woman in Berlin' by Anonymous