Angelina Jolie expected to give keynote address at Vancouver peacekeeping summit
Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie gives a press conference in Siem Reap province, Cambodia, Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017. (AP / Heng Sinith)
Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, November 8, 2017 12:03PM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, November 8, 2017 2:36PM EST
OTTAWA -- Academy Award-winning actress Angelina Jolie is expected to lend her star power to next week's peacekeeping summit in Vancouver.
A draft program for the two-day meeting leaked to The Canadian Press says Jolie will deliver a keynote address at the event, appearing as a special envoy of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and co-founder of the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative.
The topic of Jolie's Nov. 15 address is not listed, but the Liberal government has pushed for the summit to include discussions about increasing gender equality in peacekeeping and ending sexual abuse by warring factions -- and peacekeepers themselves.
After long ignoring the issue of sexual violence in war, the international community has in recent years stepped up its efforts to end rape and other sexual crimes in conflict zones and to hold perpetrators to account.
Jolie has been helping on that front; in June, for example, she sat down at a training centre in Kenya with peacekeepers, police and civil society groups to talk about how to prevent and respond to sexual violence.
"This is not simply about law and human decency. It is about military effectiveness," she said at the time.
"If civilians do not have confidence in you as peacekeepers, your mission will not succeed. And while this training is clearly only a beginning, it is the only way that we will begin to address the problems: working nation by nation to raise standards and increase effectiveness."
Yet the UN has also struggled with revelations that peacekeepers themselves have either sexually abused or exploited the very people they were to protect in a number of countries.
Canadian peacekeepers have been among those implicated: UN figures show that three Canadian police officers deployed to Haiti have been accused of sexual abuse or exploitation since 2015.
The most recent case was in March, an incident the UN and Canadian authorities are still investigating, while one of the other officers from 2015 was sent home for what the UN termed "administrative action." The third incident, also from 2015, is still under investigation. The alleged perpetrators have not been publicly identified.
Canada pledged $600,000 in September to a special UN fund set up to support victims of sexual abuse and exploitation by peacekeepers, while Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland promised to do more last week.
"There can be no impunity for these crimes. Not for soldiers. Not for civilians. Not for those sent to keep the peace or provide assistance," Freeland said while unveiling a five-year plan to boost the role of women in peace and security.
Jolie's speech is listed as one of two keynote addresses at the Vancouver peacekeeping summit, which kicks off Nov. 14 and is expected to play host to representatives from 80 countries, including approximately 50 defence ministers.
The other will be delivered by U.S. deputy secretary of defence Patrick Shanahan. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is also scheduled to attend, alongside Freeland and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan.
Retired general Romeo Dallaire is also expected to be at the summit, where Canada and other countries will roll out an initiative aimed at preventing the use of child soldiers in war.
The Trudeau government promised last summer to make up to 600 soldiers and 150 police officers available to the UN for future peacekeeping missions, but have yet to make any concrete commitments.
Instead, the number of Canadian peacekeepers deployed around the world has actually shrunk to its smallest point in recent memory -- lower even than under the previous Conservative government.
Sources say the government has been in talks with the UN about where to send a Canadian contribution; options include providing helicopters in Mali and Haiti and a transport plane based in Uganda.
Canada is also reportedly prepared to contribute to a rapid-reaction force in the Golan Heights, an area of land between Israel and Syria, and help train the militaries of other peacekeeping nations.
An announcement is expected at the Vancouver meeting, which is only supposed to be open to officials from countries that have made concrete pledges to peacekeeping missions.