Actress and activist Angelina Jolie says promoting equality for women, combatting injustice, and helping refugees are the most important parts of her life after her six children.
“But in many ways, they go hand in hand,” she said in an interview with The Associated Press. “It’s what I hope my children know is important.”
Off camera, the 43-year-old Oscar-winner is focused on trying to help millions of people caught up in the world’s crises and conflicts, a passion that began in 2001 when she started working for the United Nations refugee agency and travelling to camps for displaced people often in poor developing countries.
“There are simply so many people around the world suffering, and with so little and in so much pain, and to not be spending our time conscious of them and finding solutions for them — it’s an empty life,” she said late Friday.
In the search for solutions, Jolie in 2012 launched the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative with former British foreign secretary William Hague. It is now supported by 156 countries.
Jolie said the initiative’s work helped produce the first international protocol on how to document and investigate sexual violence, and national action plans to combat the scourge adopted by some of the worst-affected countries, including South Sudan, Congo and Colombia.
“We tried to move the needle and we have … because we are working with many governments, non-governmental organizations, civil society around the world and we are listening,” she said.
Jolie said sexual violence is important for her because it is seen as “a weapon of war.”
“It was not seen as a sexual act,” she said. “It costs less than a bullet. It is something that is done systematically, not only to destroy the individual but their family, their community.”
What’s worse, Jolie said, is that perpetrators are almost never brought to justice.
Now, Jolie said, she is pressing for the United Nations to create a permanent, independent investigative body with a mandate to collect and assess evidence in cases involving alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity and other grave human rights violations.
During a whirlwind day Friday in which she gave a keynote address to a ministerial meeting on U.N. peacekeeping, this was one major issue she raised at high-level meetings, including with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the General Assembly president, Germany’s foreign minister, Canada’s defence minister and campaigners against sexual violence.
“We’re getting support,” Jolie said.
As part of another campaign to promote the importance of women’s participation to peace, Jolie is teaching a master’s degree course at the Center for Women, Peace and Security at the London School of Economics where she is a visiting professor.
She said she has “extraordinary young students who see the issue as it should be seen … and are committed to making change.”
Jolie said she is also working with ministers of defence and NATO on changing military doctrine and training practices to make the prevention of sexual violence a priority, and to increase the number of women in peacekeeping operations.
Looking at the world today, Jolie said, “there is such an imbalance, when certain conflicts are addressed, and certain peoples are cared for and other peoples are dismissed, their rights denied, the fight for justice and accountability for the crimes against them not even in discussion.”
Despite the world being richer and more technologically advanced than ever before, she reiterated that “we seem incapable of upholding minimum standards of humanity in many parts of world.”
As examples she pointed to missile strikes on schools and hospitals, families bombed in their homes, chemical weapons dropped on neighbourhoods and mass rapes of women, children and men. She noted the sharp rise in displaced people from less than 20 million when she started working for the refugee agency UNHCR to 65 million today and rising.
When Jolie was asked if this was reversible, she recalled spending time with primatologist Jane Goodall, a U.N. Messenger of Peace, who told her “you can never lose hope … because it is an active thing that you must have in order to continue a fight.”
“So I think we have to simply focus on what can be done and believe that things can be improved,” she said. “I have a lot of faith in the younger generation, I do. I see these children around the world standing up and speaking about climate change. I hear my own kids questioning.”
Jolie said this generation is more connected “than we ever were,” and despite possible complications “the more we know each other, the more connected the world is, and the more aware we are of what is happening and what is needed, I believe people will step up. I believe people are fundamentally good.”
As part of her focus on young people, Jolie is partnering with the BBC World Service to produce a global English-language current affairs television program for children to help them access impartial information and understand the world around them.
For Jolie, education is key.
“I spend so much time every day trying to understand what is happening, trying to get an education, trying to learn from colleagues around the world what is happening,” she said. “It’s difficult. It’s a very complicated situation, and I’m not an expert as to why these things continue except I believe that we all know that we are failing people around the world.”
For her flight back to Los Angeles on Saturday, Jolie said her reading material includes the 20-page U.N. Security Council resolution adopted Friday to extend the U.N.’s biggest peacekeeping force in Congo, which is still plagued by fighting in the mineral-rich east and sexual violence.