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Rape as Instrument of War


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Rape as Instrument of War

  1. 1. 1 Rape as Instrument of War Through history, the concept of rape has gone through a series of gradual changes. In this brief description of the term rape, and its function as instrument of war, I want to stress the fact that, it is only nowadays that the concept of rape have assumed the characteristic of crime, an act of violence committed in order to depersonalize an individual or a particular group of people. As we know, we can define rape as, “an event that occurred without the woman’s consent, involved the use of force or threat of force, and involved sexual penetration of the victim’s vagina, mouth or rectum.” (Kilpatrick, 1982). Moreover, the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 specifies in Article 27 that, “women shall be especially protected against any attack on their honor, in particular against rape, enforced prostitution, or any form of indecent assault.” Furthermore, the Geneva Convention claims that, governments are obliged to find and punish those who have blemished themselves by perpetrating such heinous crimes, and that both domestic and international courts, according to the principle of universal jurisdiction, are entitled to punish those responsible for grave breaches of the Geneva Convention. However, the crime of rape, intended as instrument of war, is still a matter of domestic law, and its etymological connotation is still the subject of dispute and intense debate by scholars. Nonetheless, the Torture Convention offers the possibility to consider rape committed in internal conflicts, as an international crime, and prosecuted as crime against humanity, whereas it has been committed in a widespread or systematic way, and directed at a civilian population. This definition, although empirically correct, gives us only a shallow perspective of the crime of rape. In this brief, it is my intent to define and analyze the differences between the concept of
  2. 2. 2 rape and the concept of rape as instrument of war, a crime perpetrated against a particular target of people (genocidal rape) and not against a single individual. On September 1998, the Rwanda Tribunal, prosecutor Jean Paul Akayesu, rendered an historic judgment, outlining the definition of rape as an act of genocide and as an instrument of genocide. It was clear to prosecutor Jean Paul Akayesu that the atrocities and barbarities committed during Rwanda Civil War were part of a plot, a systematic and premeditated program of destruction, an evil design, intended to wipe out a target of people. It was the first time in the history that an international tribunal considered the act of genocidal rape not as a crime committed against the women nature itself, but as a tool of war, a crime which had the intent to completely destroy an ethnicity. Rwanda’s Tribunal judgment has had a fundamental importance in the development of the definition of rape as weapon of war. Although rape is prohibited by law of armed conflict, it is not specifically enumerated as a “grave breach” nor as a violation of the laws and custom of war in the Geneva Convention. Rape is explicitly prohibited by art.27 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, but, as stated above, rape is not listed as a “grave breach” or war crime in any of the four Geneva Conventions, nor even mentioned in the Nuremberg Charter. The International Tribunal for Rwanda defined rape as a form of aggression, a violation of personal dignity, a physical invasion of a sexual nature, a weapon of war through which annihilate an ethnic group. Hence, it was the evidence that rape and others acts of sexual violence can be used to commit genocide. This new metamorphosis of the word rape, introduced the concept of dehumanization. It was during the Rwandan genocide that innumerable criminals, affected by HIV, were consciously released from the prisons, with the only intent to let them rape and spread the disease among those women who were still speaking out their rights or were considered to be
  3. 3. 3 married or part of the Tutsi. In many cases, victims’ family members had to pay huge amount of money not to see their relatives being raped or killed. Rape was seen as a necessity, an uncanny but deserved act of slaughter against those who were considered a target that had to be eliminated. Prior to the 1990’s, the phenomenon of war rape was almost unknown or most likely deliberately ignored by those domestic or international institutions which should prevent such crime. War rape was considered such as an isolate episode of individual sexual desire. The rape of female civilians during a war time has always been a hidden side of our society, a feature of human social relations since the earliest times. In The Old Testament are reported stories of the rape of women by conquering tribes. The rape of a woman was seen as a triumph of war. Thence, rape has to be conceived as the most traumatic personal invasion that an individual can inflict to another. Reported rapes of female non-combatants by U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq have been signaled and confirmed. Nevertheless, still today, the phenomenon of rape is quite accepted in those countries where a paternalistic system is still preponderant and where rape is still seen as something embarrassing for the woman. In the Rwanda and Bosnia conflict, rape was used as a tool of “ethnic cleansing” campaign. The city of Foca, a small and quite town located on the Drina River, became during the breakup of Yugoslavia, synonymous with one word: rape. Hundreds of Bosnian women were kidnapped and taken prisoner by Bosnian Serb paramilitary groups. Many of them were kept as sex slaves and prostitutes by Milosevic’s army, gang-raped multiple times and forced to a state of submission and fear. But, why rape is a phenomenon so widespread and rampant? It is obvious that the answer has to be located into the inability of our system to demolish the biases in which it fosters its fears. Rape has long been used as a brutal weapon of war from time
  4. 4. 4 immemorial. Rape has always been used as a sexual (not only physical) device to intimidate and to morally weaken the enemy, punish and control the population, assuming different functions and forms during the history. Humiliation, degradation, forced impregnation, and forced maternity are only a few examples of how rape can lead survivors of rape to endure psychological and physical trauma and experience unspeakable and dramatic consequences, such as higher suicide rates, post-traumatic stress disorder, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (as I have noted before for the Rwandan genocide), as well as depression and anxiety. In order to understand this peculiar phenomenon, it is necessary to remember that when the Red Army entered in Berlin, after years of war and brutalities, during which almost thousands of Soviet women had been raped and sexually abused by the Nazi Army trying to reach and conquer Stalingrad, the same fate was destined to the thousands of women living in the last Nazi stronghold. In November 1937, a few months before the war widespread in Europe, and immediately after the fall of Shanghai, the Chinese ancient town of Nanking was occupied by the Japanese troops. Within six weeks, thousands of women, from all classes, and from all ages, were brutally gang-raped, impregnated, and eventually killed. As the writer Iris Chang reported in her book, The Rape of Nanking, “the rape of women frequently accompanied the slaughter of entire families.” The Rape of Nanking, pp. 91. Even the Dagong Daily newspaper wrote about the great Rape of Nanking, “there was not one hour when an innocent woman was not being dragged off somewhere by a Japanese soldier.” In those few weeks in Nanking, the Japanese troops tarnished themselves of indelible crimes against humanity. The Japanese forced Chinese men to commit incest, acts of necrophilia, and many others unspeakable atrocities which found no precedent in our modern history, and that only thanks to some precious foreigner testimonies, that in recent years the Rape of Nanking has been partially brought to light. It is still unclear why
  5. 5. 5 the Japanese decided to rage in a such savage and inexplicable manner against the harmless civilians of the city of Nanking, but it is likely that it was a well-prepared plan, a war-strategy of which the Japanese elite was aware of, that had the purpose of weakening an enemy that since the fall of Shanghai had bravely fought and opposed the Japanese troops advance. Many of the victims were killed or silenced and their testimony forever lost. Furthermore, in many cases, children, who were the result of the rape, were killed at birth. Nevertheless, the Japanese government has always refused to recognize and acknowledge responsibility for what happened in Nanking, protecting Japanese war criminals from retaliations in International Tribunals. In 1971, during the Bangladesh was for independence, thousands of women were raped in a systematic campaign of genocidal-rape, by members of the Pakistani military, various militia, and with the complicity and the approval of leaders of Islamic parties. The rapes caused thousands of pregnancies, and a high rate of infanticides and suicides. However, thanks to the many testimonies, and the bravery of many victims and witnesses that reported such crimes, in 2010, almost 40 years after the Bangladesh war, the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) indicted, and sentenced many war-criminals to life imprisonment or death because of their ruthless crimes during the conflict. Nevertheless, still today, especially in those cultures characterized by a strong paternalistic and masculine system, stereotype around sexualized violence have remained ironclad, and rape is still seen and considered as the fault of the victim. In Ukraine, close to the Russian borders, where a conflict between a pluralistic and monistic system is still perfectly noticeable, people do not believe in the rule of law. Law is something that most of the population leaving there do not consider as an aspect in which stash its faith. They believe that nothing can stop violence against women. The Ukrainian conflict and the concomitant crises on the
  6. 6. 6 borderlines has brought to light an unavoidable truth, a stereotype that blames women for provoking the violence perpetuated against them. On March 11, 2012 American soldiers raped and then killed several Afghan women and children (also, consult The My Lai Massacre occurred during the War in Vietnam), executing more than sixteen civilians. According with one of the eye-witness, the killer pulled one boy from his sleep and shot him without any hesitation. For what we know, these and similar incidents are not isolated. These are not just the consequence of a “bad apple”, but the result of a planned and premeditated plan to intimidate and to assault a particular target of people, mostly those who are by nature more vulnerable, in order to weaken the enemy. Because of the lack of economic resources, the lack of legal knowledge and adequate structures, and the lack of domestic law, these phenomena of indiscriminate violence are widespread and tolerated by those authorities that should guarantee the safety of human rights. These offenses undoubtedly constitute war crimes and crimes against humanitarian law, an attempt to weaken the seed of democracy and that should be legally defined and condemned as an international crime, the crime of genocidal rape. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, in force since July 2002, includes rape, and other related crimes, as such as sexual slavery, enforce pregnancy or sterilization, between those actions that, if systematic and widespread, must be considered as crimes against humanity and legitimately enforced by domestic or international courts throughout the principle of universal jurisdiction. However, while many steps forward have been made in order to define the act of rape or sexual abuse perpetrated toward or against a particular target of people, as a weapon of war, still there is much to do. In fact, although, rape is explicitly prohibited by art.27 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, still today it is not acknowledged as an international crime in times of war. Furthermore, raped women are frequently stigmatized by their family or community, who
  7. 7. 7 consider them to have been dishonored. This attitude does not obviously help international law courts to consolidate its legislative power toward domestic law, which in many cases tends not to consider rape as an instrument of war, but a simple act of physical aggression. How long should we wait before the international community will be able to recognize rape as a weapon of war, or a constitutive act with respect to genocide? It will probably take more than we think, but it is an essential step toward democracy, a crucial footprint that would surely protect the next generations from attending to such heinous crime.