Dr. Samantha Nutt spoke Monday at a Canadian Bar Association event.
She says war shows no signs of abating, and notes most of the roughly 30 conflicts happening right now are not wars in which there are clearly defined sides or an organized chain of command.
Instead, Nutt says they are being waged by criminal gangs and the protagonists change day by day.
She says one of the most important steps in breaking the cycle of violence is to partner with civilian groups that are passionate about justice.
She says that includes lawyers and paralegals.
As an example, Nutt points to the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where more than five million people have been killed since 1998.
Despite multiple democratic elections and thousands of United Nations peace keepers, Nutt said women in the Congo are subject to rape with extreme violence.
"The Congo is literally overrun with mothers and little girls and infants and grandmothers who have been savagely and brutally sexually assaulted," she said.
When young girls are raped and exposed to HIV they have absolutely no hope of ever getting married, which virtually guarantees a lifetime of poverty.
"The rule of law and access to justice become key issues when it comes to what is needed and what is likely to be most effective in those environments," Nutt said.
"One of the reasons young boys prey on young girls ... is because they know they will never, ever be held to account."
Nutt said the world cannot wait and expect the systems in war-torn countries to be radically altered.
"In the face of very complex challenges, change is often incremental."
She said the key is realize it's critical to look beyond the very narrow lens of what international aid and development actually means.
Nutt, who is a medical doctor, was appointed to the Order of Canada in 2011 for her work with War Child, which provides a range of assistance to children who live in war zones.
Nutt's husband is Eric Hoskins, Ontario's minister of economic development, trade and employment.
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