William Hague – 2014 Speech on Receiving Hillary Clinton Prize


Below is the text of the speech made by William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, at Georgetown University in Washington, United States, on 25th February 2014.

I am delighted to be back at Georgetown University. I gave one of my first speeches as Foreign Secretary from this stage, and I am very proud to return under these circumstances. Secretary Clinton, Ambassador Verveer, thank you for this immense honour.

Everyone remembers who they shared a desk with at school. Well Hillary and I shared a desk for 2½ years when I was a brand-new Foreign Secretary, at the UN Security Council and in meetings around the world where they seat nations in alphabetical order.

She would silence any room, just by walking into it. She always spoke the truth as she saw it, fearlessly. And she was fond of passing notes in class. I remember one that said ‘William, let’s get out of here and have some fun’.

Hillary, you enhanced the standing of US diplomacy in the world. You strengthened the State Department. You created new opportunities for your country, breaking fresh diplomatic ground in Asia and Africa. You are one of the world’s resolute champions of human rights, and in doing all these things and more you placed the United States in a stronger position for the 21st century. You are a remarkable stateswoman and an outstanding American, and I am glad to call you my friend.

I am of course a Conservative Foreign Secretary while you were a Democrat Secretary of State. But there is a particular reason why we worked so well together across a political divide, as well as across the Atlantic:

We both believe that foreign policy is not just about responding to crises, its goal must be to improve the condition of humanity.

Yes, we must always be realistic about threats and dangers, but we must also always be fired with optimism about human nature, and be bold in seeking out and sweeping away injustice.

As nations, it is what we choose to do with our power that matters most of all, and that is the greatest testament to our values.

I believe that there is no greater strategic prize of the 21st century than the full social, political and economic empowerment of all women everywhere.

This must be the century in which women take their rightful place, in which hundreds of years of marginalisation are forcefully and finally overturned and extinguished, in which girls are born not into a world of narrow hopes and lesser protections, but into a world of equal treatment and boundless opportunity.

Every country including our own has far more to do, but this is not just a national responsibility. It is a cause that every Foreign Minister should champion, in a global effort to break down the barriers which hold women back and unlock their full potential.

It requires all the ingenuity and persistence that diplomacy can bring to bear, and should be part of the mission of each Ambassador in every Embassy of all democratic nations.

We must turn commitments that exist on paper into education, jobs, equal participation and leadership positions for women.

We need to turn women’s invisible presence in many countries around the world into a visible force in every society: with women represented in every peace process, in every government, in all walks of life.

In my view it is impossible to achieve that aspiration in a world in which the use of rape as a weapon of war goes unchallenged.

Many men and boys are victims of these crimes. Their plight too must be brought out of the shadows. But sexual violence in armed conflict disproportionately affects women, and is part of the crushing weight holding back women’s development.

It is also a major factor in creating refugee flows and perpetuating conflict. And it should be at the heart of how we view conflict prevention and foreign policy in this century.

In discussing this award we must acknowledge that it is still considered unusual for a man, and a politician, to raise these issues. But rape and sexual violence are crimes overwhelmingly committed by men. And that they should happen, while the world does nothing, should shame all men. Indeed to shy away from talking about these facts is in itself unmanly.

But that said, it is true that three women have inspired me and motivated me to take up this cause, on top of what I have witnessed as Foreign Secretary.

Two of them are my Special Advisers, Arminka Helic and Chloe Dalton, who have worked with me for nine years.

Among their many skills is the art of persuading me to do things. When I learnt that I was to receive this prize, they brought me down to earth by reminding me that the best way to get a man to do the right thing is to tell him that he has had an extremely clever idea, when in fact it was your idea all along. Perhaps that is what Hillary had in mind in awarding me this honour.

The third woman who has inspired me is Angelina Jolie. Without her film In the Land of Blood and Honey this Initiative would not exist at all.

It brought home to me that an estimated 50,000 women were raped in Bosnia twenty years ago, and that still today virtually none of them have seen any justice.

It made me think about Colombia, Rwanda, South Sudan, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Liberia, Syria – the endless list of conflicts where women, children and men have been brutally assaulted, often as part of a military strategy, with total impunity.

Sexual violence is often one of the first things that happens as soon as conflict or instability take hold.

Yet it is usually the last thing to be taken into account by those ending wars or rebuilding nations.

Women bear the worst of the burden of war – but they have always benefited least from the peace.

With this in my mind, I asked Arminka and Chloe to invite Angelina to the Foreign Office, to screen her film and talk about these issues.

They came back and said she wants to know something first: what are you going to do that will make a difference?

She was absolutely right. It is not enough just to watch a film, or to meet and discuss these issues. We only get close to doing enough when we take action that practical action that makes a difference to the lives of survivors.

Out of those conversations was born the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative, and the campaign that has taken us together from London to the DRC, the G8, the UN Security Council, and the UN General Assembly, while the number of nations supporting us has grown from 8 to 140.

Tonight Angelina has just returned from Lebanon where she has been working with refugees, who are often survivors of sexual violence. Her extraordinary humanity, her deep understanding of the lives of people uprooted by conflict, and her remarkable ability to motivate people and governments around the world are central to the success of this initiative. There is no barrier of language or culture that she is not able to overcome with her intelligence, her charm and her compassion. She is a credit to her country.

This summer, we will co-host a global summit in London, which we intend will be a summit like no other:

It will be the largest gathering ever held on this issue, running for four days from 10-13th June. It will bring together not only Foreign Ministers from those 140 nations, but also members of their armed forces, police forces, judiciaries and civil society.

We will involve young people from around the world, and open up the Summit to civil society and groups working on these issues. It will be open to members of the public, and interact with every form of social media. And British Embassies will stage events all around the world, so that the Summit continues on a 24-hour basis, and people across the globe can participate. Achieving change in the world today requires a new and more open form of diplomacy; that fuses the work of governments with civil society and the power of public opinion.

We are going to ask these 140 countries to write action against sexual violence into their military training and doctrine and their peace-keeping missions overseas. We will encourage them to form partnerships to help the worst-affected nations truly turn a corner on this problem. We will ask governments to plug gaps in their criminal justice systems and pledge to make this a priority. And we will launch a new International Protocol on how to document and investigate, document and prosecute sexual violence in conflict, to overcome one of the greatest barriers of all to justice, which is the lack of evidence.

But we are going to be even more ambitious than that. We are setting out to change the whole global attitude to these crimes, as well changing bureaucracies. We don’t just want to move the pens of Ministers, we are going to try to move the hearts of people. It is not enough to change countries’ laws, unless we change people’s whole mentality. We hope that to create so much momentum that we begin to shatter the culture of impunity, so that in the future, far from any judge, prosecutor or law, any man with a gun in any conflict-zone will think twice before ordering or committing rape.

There will be many people who say that this is too big a task, too difficult, or that it requires too much change in the crooked timber of humanity ever to be successful.

Other people say start with other, less extensive crimes, arguing that sexual violence in conflict is something that has always happened and can never be eradicated.

It is true that this task will take years and that it will be formidably difficult. But we cannot turn away.

If we don’t end impunity this problem will get worse not better.

A society that believes in human rights for all human beings and opportunities for all its citizens cannot know about the way rape is used as a weapon of war and then simply ignore it.

We cannot hope to end other forms of pervasive discrimination against women if we are unable to stand up to one of the most extreme forms of violence against them.

If women are still treated in this abhorrent way in times of war, they will never be treated as equals in times of peace, and that simply cannot be tolerated.

We know that the world is capable of agreeing that even during war, certain actions are unacceptable. We must remove rape and sexual violence from the world’s arsenal of cruelty.

To receive this award is a proud moment in my public career, and I accept it with humility.

I accept it in the name of the survivors who find the courage to talk about their ordeal, who overcome their terrible injuries, who struggle on despite intimidation, ostracism, and rejection by their families and societies. I hope that this award is some recognition that they matter and are not forgotten. And I hope it will encourage other men and other leaders to talk about these issues, since only then will we lift the stigma from innocent victims.

I accept this award thinking of the true heroines and heroes who work with survivors of rape: doctors – like Dr Mukwege – nurses, human rights defenders, lawyers; thousands of women and men who have done far more than I have, most with no reward or acknowledgement. They have done for years what governments have failed to do, and we must follow their example.

And I accept it with humility because although I am proud of what we have achieved, it is only a beginning.

I will continue this campaign for as long as it takes. I am grateful to men and women of the Foreign Office who are working across the world in support of it, and to the NGOs whose years of indispensable work we want to build upon. I am greatly encouraged by this award and by knowing that we are all part of the same endeavour.

By taking up this cause we are shouldering a responsibility that our world has shirked for too long; and having taken it up, now we must never set it down again.

Thank you.