Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie yesterday told faith leaders that they have a "powerful" role to play in ending sexual violence in conflict.
Speaking at a two-day interfaith conference in London, Jolie urged those present – including the Archbishop of Canterbury, Most Rev Justin Welby – to raise awareness about sexual violence being used as a weapon of war, and to work towards its end.
"Our most powerful assets are not our armies," she said. "They are our values. As faith leaders you are advocates for the values of compassion, tolerance, justice and reconciliation."
The use of sexual violence in war is "fuelled by impunity," Jolie added. As the Special Envoy of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, she has recently returned from Iraq, where she met survivors of ISIS attacks.
She spent time at the Khanke refugee camp in Dohuk, home to around 20,000 refugees, and yesterday described meeting a young Iraqi girl who had been kidnapped and tortured by her captors with an electric drill.
"We have to speak more loudly than those preaching hatred as religion. I believe we can," she said.
Archbishop Welby said the Church's record in the past for acting against sexual violence in conflict "has much to question".
"Churches must evidence that they recognise that issue, and in recognising it, they come with respect and humility – and that's often not what we've done," he said, insisting that "moral leadership" is necessary to protect vulnerable people in conflict.
The Prime Minister's Special Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict, William Hague, told delegates that he "deeply admire[s] the unquenchable determination to succeed in a moral and humanitarian causes that religion has often inspired".
"As faith leaders you understand that just as no human being is beyond redemption, no problem is beyond resolution ... If ever a cause has needed unquenchable ambition and resolve it is this cause," he said.
He also told The Tablet that good inter-faith relations are vital to the process.
"It relies on people of each faith to want to work together – Government can't create that," he said.
"Government doesn't have the power to order people to work together. I think we're seeing on this issue a great willingness to do so, and I've seen that all over the world. I don't think any other tensions will detract from a willingness to work together on sexual violence."
Hague and Jolie launched an international protocol to end impunity for the perpetrators of war zone rape last June.
The new protocol, which is the first of its kind, aims to increase the number of prosecutions for sexual violence worldwide by setting an international standard for investigating and documenting these crimes.
"Our response must never again be that these things simply happen, or that peace is more important than justice," Jolie said at the time.
"There are many crimes, abuses of all forms, that we must fight together. But let us begin here."