Celebrating heroes: Angelina Jolie

Nothing would mean anything if I didn’t live a life of use to others


Angelina Jolie in Chad, Africa ©Per-Anders Pettersson

It was International Women’s Day recently and it got me thinking about the inspirational women around the world. Malala Yousafzai, Angelique Namaika, Bogaletch Gebre, Edna Adan, Dafroza Gauthier…. women who you may not have heard of, probably because the don’t get much attention in the press and if there is an article about them it’s usually tucked away somewhere.

We unfortunately live in a celeb obsessed culture where people can become famous for doing nothing of value. Instead of promoting good role models we’re bombarded with selfies of skinny, ‘perfect’ looking celebs and taught that beauty is only skin deep.

There’s one ‘celebrity’ though that puts her money where her mouth is, using her insane amount of fame to make a big difference in this world.

Most people probably don’t know a lot about Angelina Jolie’s other life. The majority of what we read about her is the tabloid fodder about ‘Brangelina’. With this article I want to highlight the stuff we should be reading about and the stuff we should know her for.

It’s probably unfair to call her a celebrity because as well as being an Oscar-winning film star and mother she is also a humanitarian – in fact she spends more of her time devoting it to others, giving a voice to the voiceless, than she does to making films.

©Per-anders Pettersson

Angelina Jolie in Chad, Africa ©Per-Anders Pettersson

She has worked for the UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Agency) for over ten years now, working tirelessly to highlight the plight of refugees and internally displaced persons in over 30 countries including Sudan, Afghanistan, Syria, Haiti, Somalia and Thailand. On all of her field missions over the years she has covered all of her costs and shares the same working and living conditions as the UNHCR field staff.


Her inspiration came from her own mother Marcheline Bertrand, a woman who never had an unkind word to say to or about anyone. On International Women’s Day in 2003, Bertrand produced a benefit concert for Afghan women refugees in conjunction with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, of which Jolie is now a Special Envoy. Sadly, Bertrand died in 2007.


Jolie and her mother Marcheline

Jolie says about her mother that “she was very clear that nothing would mean anything if I didn’t live a life of use to others. I didn’t know what that meant for a long time,” she said. “I came into this business young and worried about my own experiences and my own pain. And it was only when I began to travel and look and live beyond my home that I understood my responsibility to others.” In November last year Jolie was awarded an honorary Oscar, the Jean Hersholt award, for her humanitarian work.

Jolie’s acceptance speech

Here are some of the many reasons she’s an inspiration:

She puts her life on the line for those in need


On a recent trip to Afghanistan she revealed that she had written a farewell letter to Brad Pitt after being warned she was a target for attack.

She explained: ‘I had moments where I’ve been in a house and people have pounded on the doors and screamed at you and said, “We know she’s in there and we want her passport,” and I’ve had moments recently when I went to Afghanistan, and I’ve got off the plane thinking, this is fine.’

‘And then I got there and they said, “The people are very angry with you. They are angry that you are a woman and you are American and you are with UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), so you are the target”.

‘And so they gave me a briefing and they said everybody needs to write their blood type down.’

She added: ‘There’s a guy outside with a bulletproof vest, he put his passport in the vest, because he would be the one to take me out. I wrote a note to Brad in the process and figured if anything happens he’ll find it.

‘I was fine, but then two weeks later they did attack the UN and they killed everybody in the bunker.’

Angelina has set up and financed many charity organisations
Jolie in Ecuador ©Gettyimages

Jolie in Ecuador ©Gettyimages

In 2003, she founded the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation (after her first son, Maddox, who she adopted from Cambodia) which is dedicated to community development and environmental conservation in Cambodia.

In 2007 Jolie joined forces with economist Dr. Gene Sperling, Director of The Centre for Universal Education at the Council on Foreign Relations, and founded the Education Partnership for Children of Conflict, which funds education for children affected by man-made or natural disasters. Of the partnership Jolie said “Education can make the difference between whether children of conflict can turn to violence and despair, or whether they become the can be the new leaders of a better future for their families and nations.”

In 2008, she worked with Microsoft to set up the Kids in Need of Defense, a group of law firms and volunteers who have committed to giving legal counsel for immigrant kids in the US.

She spends millions of dollars of her own money helping others

Both Angelina and Brad dig deep when it comes to charity, with the pair donating millions and millions of their own money each year. Records from 2008 show the couple gave over $8m to charitable causes and in 2009 they gave at least $7m.

Jolie and Pitt in Bosnia

Jolie and Pitt in Bosnia

When Brad and Angelina’s twins, Knox and Vivienne, were born the couple sold the first images of the babies to People and Hello! for $14 million, using the entire amount to help fund the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation.


Last year Jolie announced that she had opened an all-girls primary school outside of war-torn Kabul, Afghanistan. The school educates between 200 and 300 Afghan girls, many of them refugees whose homes and villages have been destroyed in the years since the Taliban regime came to power. But now that the Taliban’s stronghold over the country has collapsed, people are hoping to resume normal life. Getting kids back to school every day is one way to do just that.
Jolie in Afghanistan

Jolie in Afghanistan ©Marco Di Lauro

To fund this venture, Jolie has released a personal jewellery collection, designed alongside jeweller Robert Procop, through Kansas City-based, high-end jewelry shop, Tivol. The collection is called Style of Jolie and 100% of the proceeds will be donated to her foundation, The Education Partnership for Children of Conflict.

jolie_Tivol_jpg_330x330_q85“Beyond enjoying the artistic satisfaction of designing these jewels, we are inspired by knowing our work is also serving the mutual goal of providing for children in need,” Jolie said.

“We launched this collaborative collection with the intent that 100 percent of the profits will go to charity,” Jolie’s long-time designing partner Procop said. “The beauty of these creations is matched by the beauty of spirit behind Angelina’s most heartfelt mission — to empower children in crisis.”

“Tivol, with their historic reputation and dedication to family values is a wonderful retail partner to launch our collection in the U.S.,” Jolie added.

If this business model proves successful, Jolie and Pitt, hope to fund more schools and educational initiatives in the places that need them most.

She uses film to educate about the horrors of war
Angelina Jolie directing on the set of “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” about the war in Bosnia. ©Dean Semler/FilmDistrict and GK Films

Angelina Jolie directing on the set of “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” about the war in Bosnia. ©Dean Semler/FilmDistrict and GK Films

Angelina used her directorial debut, In the Land of Blood and Honey, to highlight the horrors of the war in Bosnia. The war lasted from 1992 to 1995 and around 100,000 people were killed with up to 50,000 women being raped and 2.2 million people displaced.

Jolie and some of the cast of the film received threats due to making the film. At the movie’s premiere in Sarajevo, she said: ‘There were things sent to me, there were things posted online. The cast have never complained to me about these threats but I’ve heard through other people it was happening. One of them did have their windows smashed in on their cars and someone else had an issue when their phone was hacked and emails were sent out saying they were from them and saying they had been hurt.’

She gets involved in politics – and not in a bad way

Recently Angelina joined forces with William Hague to raise awareness about the use of rape as a weapon of war in conflicts. Hague had watched In the Land of Blood and Honey at the urging of his senior special adviser, Arminka Helic, a Bosnian who fled to the U.K. in 1992 to earn a Ph.D. Hague was struck by the power of the film. “I started this campaign with Angelina Jolie because foreign policy has got to be about more than just dealing with urgent crises—it has to be about improving the condition of humanity,” he said.

Jolie and Hague at the G8 in London

Jolie and Hague at the G8 in London

In Rwanda, up to 500,000 people were raped during the genocide 20 years ago. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, which Jolie and Hague visited a year ago as part of their campaign, there an estimated 200,000 surviving rape victims and the issue is still ongoing – it has in fact been called the ‘rape capital of the world’ and in 2011 it was estimated that around 1,000 women a day were raped. In Syria today there are thought to have been countless rapes but there are no approximate figures for this due to the taboo surrounding rape for Muslim women. Many do not report it or even tell their husbands or family.

They were recently at the G8 in London to talk about the £23million pledged towards tackling sexual violence in conflict zones around the world.

Angelina Jolie and William Hague in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Angelina Jolie and William Hague in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Their campaign, called the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative (PSVI), aims to end the shame that victims feel as well as the impunity that often follows such crimes.

At the end of last month they visited Bosnia where they to raise the awareness of the scale of rape during conflict. About 50,000 women, mostly Muslim, were raped during Bosnia’s inter-ethnic war in the 1990s and so far only 33 people have been convicted for the crimes by local courts and 30 by a UN war crimes tribunal ate the International Criminal Court in The Hague in the Netherlands.

Between 10 – 13th June, Hague and Jolie will host a four-day summit in London that will bring together governments from 141 countries. They aim to create irreversible momentum against sexual violence in conflict and promote practical action that impacts those on the ground (peacekeepers, police and the justice system).

Hague said that today “sexual violence is used deliberately as a weapon of war” in the conflicts in Syria, Central African Republic and South Sudan. He said: “I hope we can all work together to prevent the horrors seen in this region from being repeated in future conflicts anywhere in the world.”

She gives a voice to the voiceless

On World Refugee Day in June last year, Jolie did a report for CNN to bring to the attention the plight of the thousands of Syrian refugees. For many, being a refugee is like being in prison for a crime you didn’t commit, for you don’t know how long. Children in the camp suffer from diarrhoea, respiratory infections, high fever, ear infections and skin diseases, due to poor sanitation and hygiene. In winter the camps are constantly flooded due to rain and snow and in the summer the temperatures regularly top 100°F making living conditions in the dusty camp unbearable. Jolie yet again used her considerable fame to bring attention to a worthy cause.

She wrote about her double mastectomy in the hope that other women would benefit from her decision.


When Jolie discovered she had the BRCA1 faulty gene, giving her an 87 per cent risk of developing breast cancer and a 50 per cent risk of ovarian cancer, she took the brave decision to have a preventative double mastectomy. She wrote a moving op-ed piece for the New York Times about her decision in the hope that other women would benefit from her experience.

Brad Pitt said of his fiancé – ‘She’s faced her problems head on and found out her options to make the smartest decision for her, and she’s shared that knowledge with everyone else.

‘It’s important that this testing is not available for everyone and it should be, and that there are surgical options and everyone should have these options.’

‘I always want her by my side. Life will go on and we’re taking care of business as usual. We’re on the other side of that.

‘It’s the bravest thing and I get a little emotional about the act she did for our family and telling her story to others. She’s a very special woman.’


The Genocide Hunters

Alain and Dafroza Gauthier ©francetv

Alain and Dafroza Gauthier ©francetv

“There are no devils left in Hell, they are all in Rwanda”

– A missionary at the time of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide

Husband and wife team Alain and Dafroza Gauthier have spent the last 13 years working hard to hunt down the perpetrators of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide and bring them to justice. Mrs Gauthier’s mother and dozens of her relatives were murdered during the massacre and she learnt her mother had been shot by a Hutu general who later fled to Cameroon, where he died a free man. After this she promised herself she would seek justice for the hundreds of thousands of Tutsi victims who were killed in the genocide by Hutu extremists.

The Genocide came about as the result of almost a hundred years of high tensions between the two main ethnic groups in Rwanda – the ethnic Hutu majority and the ethnic Tutsi minority. They were thrown into years of rivalry by Belgian colonists who favoured the Tutsi’s, considering them superior to the Hutu’s, and enabling them to enjoy a far greater life. The Tutsi’s received better jobs and education and this built a bitter resentment amongst the Hutu population, but in the late 1950s they overthrew the Tutsi government, treating the minority Tutsi’s poorly for many years to come. In the early 1990s a full-scale civil war erupted and lasted for three years until a cease-fire was brokered after the international community put increasing pressure on the Hutu-led government of Juvenal Habyarimana. But on 6th April 1994, President Habyarimana was assassinated when his plane was shot down over the capital Kigali.

It is still not known to this day who shot the plane down. Hutu’s blamed the Tutsi’s for murdering President Habyarimana but some believe it could have been the Hutu’s themselves who carried it out in order to gain support for their growing plan to murder all of Rwanda’s Tutsi population.

RWANDA WAR1101940801_400

                                                                                                                                                                                                       Time Magazine covers the 1994 Rwandan Genocide

After the death of the President, the Interahamwe, a group of Hutu extremists, saw their opportunity to wipe out what they called the ‘cockroaches’ and gained the support of the Hutus in government, the local military and the mass media throughout Rwanda. They used the national radio stations to broadcast violent propaganda against the Tutsi’s and set up checkpoints throughout the country to stop those who tried to escape. With no one to stop them the Interahamwe put their plan into action and began the mass extermination of Tutsi’s and moderate Hutu’s. Over the next 100 days they murdered 800,000 men, women and children – that’s 8,000 people per day – butchering the majority of them to death with machetes.

A victim of the genocide © James Nachtwey

A victim of the genocide © James Nachtwey

Scenes like this were seen far and wide across the country

Scenes like this were seen far and wide across the country

Mrs. Gauthier, born in 1954, grew up in Kigali, the Rwandan capital, where she met her husband in the early 1970s. He was there to teach French under a foreign aid program and a few years later, they met again in France where they married in 1977.

After settling in the French city of Reims and raising a family, they were living a comfortable life when the Genocide erupted in 1994. That’s when the calls started to come in… “We were glued to the telephone all day,” Mrs. Gauthier recalled. “People would tell us, ‘At X’s home, they’re all dead. They’ve been killed this morning.’ It didn’t mean anything anymore. I can’t express it with words. We were lost, we wondered whether it was true. Once we were there, we realised the magnitude of things when people we knew weren’t there anymore, and even their houses had disappeared.”

Aftermath of the Genocide

Aftermath of the Genocide

1994, Goma, Zaire --- A young Rwandan boy cries and clings to his dead father, who died moments before of cholera. The two had fled the Hutu-Tutsi violence in Rwanda and come to Zaire for safety. --- Image by © David Turnley/CORBIS

1994, Goma, Zaire — A young Rwandan boy cries and clings to his dead father, who died moments before of cholera. The two had fled the Hutu-Tutsi violence in Rwanda and come to Zaire for safety. — Image by © David Turnley/CORBIS

“Her life is my life. Her family is my family. It’s also my family that has been assassinated,” said Alain, 64, sitting next to his wife in their small home office where they work on cases. “We very quickly found ourselves looking into who was behind the massacres. This is a battle that has been imposed upon us and we’ll lead it as long as we have the strength to.”

In 2001, they travelled to Brussels for the trial of four Rwandans convicted of committing war crimes during the mass killings. There, the couple met the head of an association that searched for Rwandan fugitives in Belgium. “He told us, ‘Why don’t you do this in France? There are hundreds of them there,’ ” Mr. Gauthier said. “And so we did.”

The couple started visiting Rwanda, talking to survivors and collecting testimonies and set up an association, the Collective of Civil Plaintiffs for Rwanda, to have legal standing to file civil cases against fugitives.

Dominique Ntawukuriryayo

Dominique Ntawukuriryayo

In 2004, the couple unmasked Dominique Ntawukuriryayo, living in Carcassonne, in southern France. Ntawukuriryayo was working in a church there and had founded Future Geniuses, a nongovernmental organisation to help children in Rwanda.

But although Ntawukuriryayo appeared to be a respected member of society, what many people didn’t realise was that he played a major role in the killing of as many as 25,000 Tutsi refugees in April 1994. Thanks to the Gauthier’s he was eventually extradited to Tanzania, where he was convicted on genocide charges in 2010 and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

The couple also tracked down Sosthène Munyemana, another outwardly respected member of society, who worked as a gynecologist living in the southwest of France. He has never been convicted by the French even though in Rwanda, he is often referred to as the “butcher of Tumba” (Tumba is a district south of Butare) and is accused by local authorities and Interpol of murder and being involved in his country’s extermination plan against the Tutsis.

Sosthène Munyemana ©AFP

Sosthène Munyemana ©AFP

For 13 years the Gauthiers have worked tirelessly for justice, and it seems all their hard work has finally paid off because the French authorities have, for the very first time, brought to trial one of the suspects – Pascal Simbikangwa, a 54 year old former Rwandan Army Chief who is accused of supplying arms and instructions to the ethnic Hutu militia men who manned roadblocks in the capital and killed thousands of Tutsi men, women and children.

“It’s very significant because the genocide suspects will no longer find the safe haven in France that they have today,” Jacques Kabale, Rwanda’s ambassador to France, told Reuters.

Rwanda’s former justice minister Johnston Busingye declared: “This is history in the making.”

Pascal Simbikangwa ©AFP

Pascal Simbikangwa ©AFP

The Gauthiers found Simbikangwa, five years ago, at his home in the slums of Kaweni, a city on the island of Mayotte, a French territory in the Indian Ocean.

“The Gauthiers were alone, they fought, and their work is colossal,” said Maria Malagardis, a journalist for the newspaper Libération, who wrote a book, “On the Track of the Rwandan Killers,” about the couple.

The trial, which started on 4th February, will continue for the next 5 weeks.

Alain told the BBC: ‘We are simply citizens with a conscience, as the presence of Rwandan genocide suspects in France is intolerable for the families of victims. So without any [legal] knowledge we started this work and research. Once we discovered a suspect in France, we were obliged to go to Rwanda to find witnesses – in order to make a case. Those witnesses were either survivors or the killers themselves – those freed having served their terms and those who were still in prison gave us the best information.

‘Money has been a problem. In the beginning, we paid for our own travel, then the Collective of Civil Plaintiffs for Rwanda, which has about 150 members, helped us go. We have received some donations – but right now there is no real financial support. To find suspects, we have followed up leads from those who have told us that they suspected people in their area or university may have taken part in the genocide – this information arrived from different sources. Then it was up to us to verify it and if we had the means we’d go to Rwanda to investigate. It was a lot of work. For each case we have to go four or five times, staying often for two to four weeks.

‘I’d go to Rwanda in all my holidays – I was a teacher until I recently retired. It required a lot of translation work, which my wife mostly did, and then we would give the information to our lawyers who would take several months to prepare documents to be accepted by the justice system. Amongst the suspects we have discovered are three doctors, a priest, a former governor – most of them are respected members of society. It’s very difficult to know the true number of genocide suspects currently living in France – but so far we have filed complaints against about 25. Without the work of our organisation, the Collective of Civil Plaintiffs for Rwanda, and others who have helped us there would be no investigation of genocide suspects in France.

‘There has been no help from the government. Then there’s the work of the French justice system, which for a long time has dragged its feet and didn’t have the means to pursue and investigate these people. That changed two years ago… but from the government there has been no help. Trying genocide suspects is an occasion to remember the French government’s role in Rwanda in 1994. We think that there was on the part of that government, a diplomatic, financial and military complicity… so bringing that all up on French soil makes those formerly responsible uncomfortable – and some of them are still quite powerful. So it doesn’t bring pleasure to anyone, and it’s clear that until now we’ve received no support at all from the French political world.

Alain Gauthier, center, a French school teacher and creator of the Collective of Civil Plaintiffs for Rwanda, and his wife Dafroza Gauthier, right, arrive at Paris law court for the trial of Pascal Simbikangwa, a 54-year-old former Hutu intelligence chief, who faces charges of complicity in genocide and complicity in war crimes, at Paris law court, Tuesday Feb. 4, 2014. (AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere)

Alain Gauthier, center, a French school teacher and creator of the Collective of Civil Plaintiffs for Rwanda, and his wife Dafroza Gauthier, right, arrive at Paris law court for the trial of Pascal Simbikangwa, a 54-year-old former Hutu intelligence chief, who faces charges of complicity in genocide and complicity in war crimes, at Paris law court, Tuesday Feb. 4, 2014. (AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere)

‘Pascal Simbikangwa is the first trial, which has come far too late. We just hope that it acts as a kind of incentive in French justice and that many others will soon be brought to trial. What we do, we do because we believe it is only justice that can give the victims who are no more the dignity that was taken away from them. We aim to do this “without hate or vengeance”, to take the expression of the Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal. What motivates us is essentially giving victims back their dignity’.

To donate to the Collective of Civil Plaintiffs for Rwanda so that the Gauthiers can continue to hunt down the murderers who elude justice, please click here.

To find out more about Collective of Civil Plaintiffs for Rwanda, click here.

How you can help

You can choose to help the Gauthier’s in many ways: