Rape: A Weapon of War
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that every person is
entitled to life, liberty, and security of person. The
Declaration also mandates that no one should be subjected to cruel, degrading
treatment or torture (Agosin, 1998). Clearly women
and girls raped during conflict have been violated.
Rape is a form of torture. It attacks a woman's identity and personal
integrity. Lepa Mladjenovic, a psychotherapist and Serbian
feminist antiwar activist, stated that it renders a woman "homeless in her
own body." Rape is a violation of a woman's power that
degrades and seeks to destroy her (Copelon, 1995). This paper will discuss
instances of rape during conflict and war.
Sexual Violence During Conflict
It has been estimated that between 30,000 and 60,000 women were raped
during the war in former Yugoslavia. It is difficult to
clarify just how many women were victimized since many are now refugees
in other countries and many are still unable to talk about
their experiences (Richter-Lyonette, 1996).
Jean Paul Akayesu, mayor of Taba in 1994, encouraged and ordered the
rape of Tutsi women. The women were raped to
increase their suffering before they were murdered. He was found
guilty of these crimes of genocide in 1998 (New York Times,
During the 1994 genocide in Rwanda as many as 500,000 women were
raped ( Richter-Lyonette, 1996).
The Sierra Leone Expo (2001) released an article recently that
quoted the country's leading psychiatrist Dr. Edward Namim
regarding war sex crimes. He stated that, "Sierra Leone has produced
world records in terms of rape and other sex crimes,
though statistics are largely inconsistent and incidents generally
In the 1971 War of Liberation the Pakistani army and its supporters
raped 30,000 Bengali women in the course of nine-months.
Women were also detained in camps until they conceived but not until
it was certain that is was too late to end their pregnancies.
The systematic rape of Bengali women was used to violate the "enemy's
territory and honor" (Bodman and Tohidi,1998).
A report released February of 2001 by Human Rights Watch (HRW) stated
that the women of Sierra Leone have not been
provided sufficient protection against sexual violence. The report charges
that all sides in the conflict have engaged in sexual violence
against these women, with the exception of the West African peacekeeping
force, and the United Nations Mission. Rebel forces such
as the Revolutionary United Front, Armed Forces Revolutionary Council, and
the West Side Boys have been a menace to women
since the Sierra Leonean civil war began in 1991.
Often these rebel forces will rape, kill, or abduct refugees traveling
from camp to camp. Recently a humanitarian corridor, known
as a "safe passage" through rebel territory, was discovered to be a frequent
site of such attacks. Refugees attempting to return to
Sierra Leone from desperate conditions in Guinea have died in this violence
and over 100,000 have been displaced. Many of the
returning women said that they were abducted, raped, or sexually abused.
These women are many times taken to rebel bases, gang
raped repeatedly, and held for long periods of time (Human Rights Watch World
It is believed that tens of thousands of girls have suffered such
abuses. One young girl recalled her abduction that occurred during
a visit to her aunt during a vacation from school. Rebels invaded the city
where she was staying, unfamiliar with the area she was
unable to find an adequate hiding place. She remembers watching terrified
civilians being pulled from their homes, beaten, and even
killed. Later that night she was raped by one of the rebels and declared his
wife. For another year she was held by the rebel group
even though she was pregnant and anemic. Before the birth of her baby she
escaped and is now living with her child in a center with
girls with similar experiences (African Church Information Service, 2001).
Rape and sexual violence in Kosovo took place in the wake of Bosnia
and Herzegovina. The women of Kosovo were aware of the
atrocities that occurred there as tools of "ethnic cleansing." Prior to the
war, official state propaganda in Yugoslavia was used to
attack Albanian women. They were described as uneducated women ready to have
sex. The propaganda also called Albanian
women baby makers that produced "biological bombs." Countless accounts
describe police, soldiers, and paramilitaries raping
women that were in homes, while in detention, or in flight from the country.
Frequently they were raped in front of their families or other
groups of people. This is especially devastating to these women who are
often abandoned or blamed for such violence. In an attempt
to protect themselves many of the women dressed as though they were elderly
or rubbed dirt and mud on their faces (HRW, 2000).
It is evident that in times of war women are targeted. Other refugees
and civilians of war-torn areas have also suffered such
treatment. The Human Rights Watch Global Report on Women's Human Rights
published in 1995 discusses rape as a weapon of war
and tool of political repression in great detail. Included are the women of
Somalia who have suffered through civil and ethnic faction
wars. These women are targeted as they attempt to collect water or firewood
for their families. Rivals wait for the women to leave the
camp and then strike, it is their way to punish the enemy. Women and women
based organizations were also targeted in Haiti. Military
personnel and civilian allies subjected women to sex-specific abuses like
bludgeoning their breasts to rape. These acts were used to
punish women for their political beliefs, terrorize them, or send violent
messages to male relatives. Other violations have been
taken place in India and Peru by security forces and militant groups.
Refugees and the displaced such as the Burmese in
Bangladesh and Somali refugees in Kenya also suffered multiple and repeated
rapes (HRW 1995). This list does not even begin to
acknowledge all of the horrific cases of sexual violence that have and are
currently occurring around the globe.
Consequences of Rape As a Weapon
The pain, agony, and consequences of rape do not end with the attack
of these victims. The effects often last for the rest of these
women's lives. Those who survive risk contracting sexually transmitted
diseases, HIV, or becoming pregnant. Those who are forced to
bear the child of an attacker are constantly reminded of the invasion of
their community and of their person. Some have been so badly
injured in attacks that they will never be able to bear children. Some
societies have religious or cultural restrictions on those who are
no longer virgins. These women may never be able to be a part of their
families or communities. These women may never receive any
professional help for the physical, psychological, and economic damage
inflicted upon them. Many are unable to bear the pain and
shame and take their own lives (Chinkin, 2000).
African Church Information Service. (May 5, 2001). Rape:The Indelible Mark
On Girl Victims During War. [On-line Article] http://allafrica.com
- Agosin, Marjorie ed. (1998). A Map of Hope Women's Writing on Human Rights.
Rutgers University Press. New Brunswick.
- Bodman, Herbert L. and Tohidi, N. ed. Women in Muslim Societies Diversity
Within Unity. Lynne Rienner Publishers. Boulder.
- Chinkin, Christine. (2000). Rape and Sexual Abuse of Women in International
Law. European Journal of International Law 326.
- Copelon, Rhonda. (1995). Gendered War Crimes:Reconceptualizing Rape in Time
of War. Womens Rights Human Rights ed. Julia Peters and Andrea Wolper.
Routledge, New York.
- Human Rights Watch. (1995). The Human Global Rights Watch Global Report on
Women's Human Rights. Human Rights Watch. New York.
- Human Rights Watch. (2001). HRW World Report 2001:Sierra Leone. [On-line
Article] http://www.hrw.org/press .
- Human Rights Watch. (2000). The Shadow of Bosnia: An Atmosphere of Terror.
[On-line Article] http://www.hrw.org/press .
- New York Times. (1998). When Rape Becomes Genocide. New York Times Archive.
- Richter-Lyonette, Eleonor. (1996). Rape Is A War Crime. Newsletter-The
International Communication Project No29. Editor:Bernd Schneider. Hannover
- Sierra Leone Expo. (2001). Sierra Leone Takes Lead In War Crimes Rape.
Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company.
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- Women's Rights Human Rights International Feminist Perspectives. ed. Julie
Peters and Andrea Wolper. Routledge. Contains regional reports on violence
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