Last week Foreign Secretary William Hague and actress Angelina Jolie co-hosted a conference in London, End Sexual Violence in Conflict. The conference sought to publicize the atrocity of rape in conflict zones and to work toward international standards to prosecute perpetrators.
Also last week, Iraq began to explode. The news rapidly filled up with violent visuals and stories of a race to war.
It would have been quite reasonable for the Foreign Secretary to have made a brief statement at the conference to the effect that he regrets that he must leave the conference to attend to ominous developments in the Middle East, that those gathered know too well of the horrors of war, but that with his political position he can serve the goal of eradicating rape in conflict best by working to resolve a conflict now catching fire. Continue the work of the conference while he will try to make it less necessary.
But he didn’t leave the conference. Apparently, as violence erupted in Iraq the Foreign Secretary defended his time at the conference, which drew a critical article in The Times of London on Sunday. Adam Boulton of Sky News criticized Hague for not turning his attention to Iraq. That war has many Hells, not just rape, and that the highest and best use for the Foreign Secretary at this moment is trying to prevent outbreak of war in the Middle East and all the assorted Hells that come with it made for a logical argument by Boulton.
But that was lost. Boulton hooked his article with a question: doesn’t a rape conference “look a little bit trivial in a week when a brutal Islamist militia took control of much of Northern Iraq”?
No, Mr. Boulton, neither the conference nor rape is at all trivial. Rape is a result of war and a weapon of war. War is the environment in which rape flourishes. So yes, Hague might have been wise to turn his attention to Iraq, but not because rape is trivial but because it isn’t. Unlike the actress, he is in a position to prevent the atrocity rather than have to settle for prosecution after the fact.
It was callous word choice that undermined Mr Boulton’s otherwise sensible point that the best way for the Foreign Secretary to prevent the barbaric war crime of rape, is to prevent war.