Great persuasive speech, 2013: Angelina Jolie

Written by

Nancy Duarte


Image credit: Gage Skidmore

I get asked all the time, “Who are the most powerful female communicators?” Sadly, it’s a short list. Not many women have a broad platform (let’s change that, ladies!). Sheryl Sandberg is rocking it in the business space, and I think Angelina Jolie has it nailed in the humanitarian space. She gets little visibility for her work. In fact, when I mentioned to a few people that I felt she should be awarded Communicator of the Year for 2013, their disbelief shocked me.

Jolie has spent over a decade advocating for refugees and victims of war. It’s not a gratuitous PR stunt for her, it’s her passion and meaningful hard work.

I wanted to share the full transcript of the speech she gave to the UN Security Council requesting that they make rape an international crime. After this speech, the Council unanimously passed the resolution.

Warning: The following transcript contains graphic descriptions of sexual violence.

What is What could be

Mr. President, Secretary General, Foreign Ministers; it is an honour to address this Council; and I thank Foreign Secretary Hague for the United Kingdom’s leadership.

The Security Council was established 67 years ago, and has witnessed 67 years of wars and conflict.

But the Security Council has yet to take up warzone rape as a serious priority.

Hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of women, children and men have been raped in conflicts in our lifetimes.

The numbers are so vast, and the subject so painful that we have to stop to remember that …

… behind each number is someone with a name, a personality, a story, and dreams no different from ours and those of our children.

Let us be clear what we are speaking of:

Young girls raped and impregnated before their bodies are able to carry a child, causing fistula.

Boys held at gunpoint and forced to sexually assault their mothers and sisters.

Women raped with bottles, wood branches and knives to cause as much damage as possible.

Toddlers and even babies dragged from their homes, and violated.

I will never forget the survivors that I have met, or what they told me:

The mother in Goma whose five year old daughter had been raped right outside a police station; in plain view.

Or the woman who I met Syria last week, who asked I hide her name and face; because she knew if she spoke out about the crimes committed against her, she would be attacked again – and possibly killed.

Rape is a tool of war. It is an act of aggression, and a crime against humanity.

It is inflicted intentionally to destroy the woman, the family and the community.

It ruins lives and fuels conflict.

The United Nations Charter is clear: You, the Security Council, have “primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security”.

Rape as a weapon of war is an assault on security. And the world in which these crimes happens is one in which there is not and never will be peace.

Addressing warzone sexual violence is therefore your responsibility, as well as the duty of governments in countries afflicted by it.

The fact is that in many conflict situations there is no government to take responsibility. So there is no protection and no accountability.

When governments cannot act, the UN Security Council must step in to provide leadership and assistance.

For these crimes happen not because they are inherent to war, but because the global climate allows it. That five year old girl was raped because her attacker knew he would get away with it.

And because the world has not treated this as a priority, there have only been a handful of prosecutions for hundreds of thousands of survivors.

They suffer most at the hands of their rapists, but they are also victims of this culture of impunity.

That is the sad, upsetting and indeed shameful reality.

I understand that there are many things that are difficult for the UN Security Council to agree on. But sexual violence in conflict should not be one of them.

That it is a crime to rape young children is not something I imagine anyone in this room would not be able to agree on.

The rights and wrongs of this issue are straightforward; and the actions that need to be taken have been identified.

What is needed is political will, and that is what is being asked of your countries today:

To act on the knowledge of what is right and what is unjust; and to show the determination to do something about it.

Every country in the world is affected by sexual violence in one form or another, from domestic abuse to female genital mutilation.

So all countries have a responsibility to step forward. But the starting point must be you, the UN Security Council, shouldering your responsibilities and showing leadership.

To women in refugee camps, or those struggling to survive in war-torn communities, there is no greater power in the world that can stand by them.

That young Syrian rape victim is here, because you represent her.

That five year old child in the Congo must count, because you represent her.

And in her eyes, if her attacker gets away with his crimes, it is because you have allowed it.

You set the bar. If the United Nations Security Council sets rape and sexual violence in conflict as a priority it will become one and progress will be made.

If you do not, this horror will continue.

I thank and encourage those countries that are already setting a powerful example. My plea to all of you is to adopt and implement the Resolution before you; So that perpetrators are finally held to account, and survivors can at last feel safer on the ground.

And please, do not let this issue fall when you leave this chamber: Meet your commitments, debate this issue in your parliaments, mobilise people in your countries, and build it into all your foreign policy efforts; so that together you can turn the tide of global opinion, shatter impunity and finally put an end this abhorrence.

Thank you.

I am so impressed with Jolie’s ability to persuade. She uses contrast perfectly. She articulated not only what is (the graphic nature of the crimes) but contrast that with her plea for placing the burden of what could be on the council to change the future of millions of victims.


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