Angelina Jolie Pitt has warned that ISIS terrorists are using rape and sexual attacks "as policy".
In heartbreaking evidence to a House of Lords committee, the United Nations special envoy and actress told how desperate families were risking their lives to flee sexual violence in Syria and Iraq.
She said she had met a distraught doctor in Malta whose wife and two children had drowned on a boat from Libya. He told her how his family had fled the region because the "biggest threat" was sexual assault and rape.
Jolie Pitt said: "This terror group that we are dealing with in Syria and Iraq are absolutely dictating rape as policy, beyond something we've seen before, this is actually policy. They're saying 'You should do this, this is the right way to build a society, we're asking you to rape'.
"So we really have to have a very, very, very strong response to this particular group on this issue."
She was backed by former British foreign secretary William Hague who said preventing sexual violence was now a "very important strand" of UK efforts to tackle ISIS.
"Rape and sexual violence is their actual policy, as Angelina has said," he told the committee. "I hope the UK, the United States, and other leading countries in that global coalition will give increased importance to combatting sexual violence and crimes being committed in Iraq and Syria."
BuzzFeed News reported last month how ISIS fighters use their faith to justify taking women and girls – some as young as 12 – as sex slaves. According to human rights groups, ISIS has captured thousands of Yazidi women and children as slaves since they swept through the group's ancestral home in the Sinjar mountains last year.
Jolie Pitt said an increasing global focus on tackling sexual violence, led by Hague as foreign secretary, had encouraged victims to start coming "out of the shadows", adding: "To me, that means everything."
She said rape was "not sexual" but a "powerful abusive weapon". She told peers: "I think what would happen if I was raped, or my daughters were raped. You would want to know that it was wrong, that the world thought it was wrong, and that the person that did this to you doesn't just walk free."
Her appearance in front of the Lords committee on sexual violence in conflict drew far more attention than other hearings along the same parliamentary corridor. Chancellor George Osborne, who was addressing the Treasury committee, told journalists waiting for Jolie Pitt: "I know my place. I'm in the committee next door but I don't expect to see you there."
Emily Ashton is a senior political correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Emily Ashton at email@example.com.
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