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Angelina Jolie’s campaign against ‘rape in war’ sees landmark UN sanctions imposed

Nicholas Cecil
·4-min read
<p>Ms Jolie and William Hague launched a campaign against sexual violence in conflict in 2012  </p> (Getty)

Ms Jolie and William Hague launched a campaign against sexual violence in conflict in 2012


Actress Angelina Jolie’s campaign against “rape in war” saw landmark UN sanctions imposed against a police chief for horrific human rights abuses on Friday.

The Security Council imposed the sanctions on Sultan Saleh Aida Aida Zabin, a top police security official in Yemen’s capital, citing his “prominent role in a policy of intimidation and use of systematic arrest, detention, torture, sexual violence and rape against politically active women”.

They are understood to be the first such actions by the United Nations against a perpetrator of sexual violence in conflict in the Middle East and North Africa region.

Ms Jolie and then Foreign Secretary William Hague launched a campaign against sexual violence in conflict in 2012 and experts say the sanctions would not have happened without it, given the focus it has put on these atrocities carried out in war.

Baroness Arminka Helic, a key player in the campaign, told the Standard: “This a good day for the women of Yemen, and for the justice they deserve.

“It is only a first step: I hope that those who have suffered at this man’s hands will one day have their voices heard in court, and see him sentenced.

“It shows the continued importance of the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative which William Hague and Angelina Jolie co-founded in 2012.”

She also urged Boris Johnson and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to commit to the establishment of a “permanent international, impartial mechanism to investigate and gather evidence of these crimes, so we can see an increase in prosecutions and accountability”.

The UN Security Council resolution, adopted by a vote of 14-0, said Zabin, director of the Criminal Investigation Department in the capital Sanaa, which is controlled by Houthi rebels in the wartorn country, is directly or by virtue of his authority responsible for using multiple places of detention including police stations, prisons and detention centres for human rights abuses.

“In these sites, women, including at least one minor, were forcibly disappeared, repeatedly interrogated, raped, tortured, denied timely medical treatment and subjected to forced labour,” the council said.

“Zabin himself directly inflicted torture in some cases.”

The council said in imposing a travel ban and arms embargo on Zabin that he “engaged in acts that threaten the peace, security and stability of Yemen, including violations of applicable international humanitarian law and human rights abuses in Yemen”.

Foreign Office minister Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, the Prime Minister’s Special Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict, said: “The UN Security Council Resolution 2564 (2021) sanctioning Sultan Zabin clearly demonstrates that the international community will not tolerate the atrocious use of torture and sexual violence in conflict zones.

“It is just and right that Zabin is sanctioned for leading the Criminal Investigation Department’s (CID) heinous campaign of systematic arrest, detention, torture, sexual violence and rape against politically active women in Yemen.

“Using sexual violence as a weapon is a terrible crime, and the UK will continue to call out perpetrators and hold them to account.”

Russia abstained in the vote.

The UN resolution extended the mandate of the panel of experts monitoring the implementation of sanctions in Yemen until March 28, 2022.

The devastating conflict in Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country, erupted in 2014 when Iranian-backed Houthi rebels seized Sanaa and much of the country’s north.

That prompted a US-backed military coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to intervene months later in a bid to restore the government of Yemeni President Abed Rabu Mansour Hadi to power.

The conflict has killed some 130,000 people and spawned the world’s worst humanitarian disaster.

The Security Council strongly condemned the ongoing escalation of violence in Yemen’s oil-rich central province of Marib between Houthi and government forces, and the continuation of Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia.

The resolution stressed the need “for de-escalation across Yemen and a nationwide cease-fire”.

It expressed “serious concern at the devastating humanitarian situation in Yemen, including the growing risk of large-scale famine and the negative consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock warned the council on Wednesday that Yemen “is falling off a cliff” and will face the worst famine the world has seen for decades unless donors, and especially its Gulf neighbors, contribute generously to this year’s U.N. humanitarian appeal for $3.85 billion (£2.77 billion).

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