Sexual violence as a weapon of war.
Subject: Violence (Investigations)
Violence (Demographic aspects)
Violence (Military aspects)
Rape (Demographic aspects)
Rape (Investigations)
Rape (Military aspects)
Women (Crimes against)
Author: Baumgarten, Robin
Pub Date: 08/01/2008
Publication: Name: Sister Namibia Publisher: Sister Namibia Audience: Academic; General Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences; Women's issues/gender studies Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2008 Sister Namibia ISSN: 1026-9126
Issue: Date: August, 2008 Source Volume: 20 Source Issue: 3
Topic: Event Code: 980 Legal issues & crime Computer Subject: Company legal issue
Product: Product Code: 9101312 Rape NAICS Code: 92212 Police Protection
Geographic: Geographic Code: 60AFR Africa
Accession Number: 188293328
Full Text: "I was busy cutting wood when four armed men suddenly appeared at the other end of the field. They told me to undress and to volunteer myself to one of them. I refused. Then they took me, spreading my legs out and tying them, one to the bottom of a tree, the other to another tree trunk. They stuck my head between two sticks held diagonally, so that I couldn't move to sit up without hurting myself. I stayed in this position and one of the attackers penetrated me force fully from behind in the vagina, and the other pushed his penis into my mouth, right into my throat ... I was retrieved by some neighbours who watched my ordeal from a distance. When they found me I had fainted and was covered in blood."-A Congolese woman describing the brutality she endured at the hands of the militia in The Shame of War, sexual violence against women and girls in conflict, OCHA/IRIN, 2007.

As Africa experiences civil strife in places like the DRC, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Uganda and Sudan, stories like this woman's are the norm rather than the exception. On other continents, in countries like Bosnia, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Columbia, Guatemala and Iraq, violations have taken place in the recent past or are continuing today. Where there is conflict, currently in thirty-five countries world-wide, the bodies of women and girls become battle grounds where not only militia, but often government soldiers and police, as well as civilians, commit acts of unimaginable brutality. There have even been incidences of UN Peacekeepers committing rape. "During wartime," says Marianne Mollman, women's rights advocate at Human Rights Watch, "it's often more dangerous to be a woman than to be a soldier."

Rape as a military strategy

According to a 1998 UN human rights report, rape and sexual violence are often motivated by political and social factors where rape functions as a tool for achieving military objectives. For example, it may be used to punish individuals or social groups, to destabilise and demoralise communities, or to drive unwanted people from their land. This strategic use of rape was clearly seen in Rwanda where it was used as a tool for ethnic cleansing. Men from one ethnic group raped women from another in a culture where ethnicity is determined by paternity. Thus, the children born from these acts would be from the opposing ethnic community.

In Uganda, some women claim that the Ugandan army was deliberately bringing in HIV-positive soldiers to rape and abuse Acholi people. These allegations haven't been proven, but the high number of women testing positive for HIV suggests a high HIV prevalence in African military organisations. Rape then becomes a means by which to infect women with HIV, which in some communities--without services and treatment-is tantamount to murder.

Rape in war often coincides with other acts of violence against the victim and/or her family. For example, men may be forced to rape members of their family at gunpoint. In one instance in the DRC a woman was taken outside and raped by a group of militia men, while another group closed her husband and four children in her house and burned them alive. All of these atrocities serve to intimidate, dominate, humiliate and create fear in the civilian population and the opposition. In many of these cases, the perpetrators act with approval (whether tacit or explicit) of their political or military leaders.

Patriarchal values re-inforced in military settings

Many activists label rape in war a deliberate strategy of combat with political intent. However, recent studies suggest that the occurrence of rape in warfare needs to be examined within the context of patriarchy, male dominance, discrimination, and gender inequality, the very same forces that often manifest as violence against women in times of peace.

A study published by the International Red Cross in 2005 on the Roots of Behaviour in War found that within combat units, an evolution of a group machismo takes place, particularly in Western armies. In this stereotypical understanding of masculinity, sexual and combat performance is highly prized. In many instances, gang rapes by Western troops were found to have been influenced by group pressure. Soldiers encouraged each other to commit acts of sexual brutality.

These observations suggest that there must be a more comprehensive approach when seeking to end sexual violence an approach that examines the prevailing systems and structures that oppress women and their implications for violence against women in both times of war and times of 'peace'.

More than words?

On 19 June 2008, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1820 demanding the "immediate and complete cessation by all parties to armed conflict of all acts of sexual violence against civilians, expressing its deep concern that, despite repeated condemnation, violence and sexual abuse of women and children trapped in war zones was not only continuing, but in some cases, had become so widespread and systematic as to reach appalling levels of brutality." But are these mere words?

Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security was adopted by the UN Security Council in 2000 and seemed to have a similar mandate. According to Sanam Anderlini, one of the original members of the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security, "1325 did not come easily; there was and still is much resistance to it, but it exists. It is international law and those who claim to support it should focus on implementation, not on new words and more rhetoric." The Working Group expressed disappointment that the Council did not implement a dedicated mechanism to monitor violence against women within the framework of Resolution 1325.

A recent decision by the International Criminal Court (ICC) to drop all sexual violence charges relating to the conflict in the DRC points to the impotent nature of 1325. Charges of sexual slavery were removed from indictments against militia leaders Germain Katanga and Mathiew Ngudjolo, who played leading roles in the violence in the Ituri region where rape has been widely used as a weapon of war. In the North Kivu province the UN reported 7,291 instances of rape in 2006 and 2007. "We need explanations from the ICC on the motivation for their decision," said Veronique Matunda, Secretary of the Provincial Commission for the Fight Against Sexual Violence. "If the charges are not prosecuted by the ICC, it will only undermine local efforts to thwart the rising tide of sexual violence."

Working with women

The Working Group did however welcome the adoption of Resolution 1820, saying, "we are glad that the UN's most powerful body has now recognised what many women worldwide have argued for so long: stopping sexual violence in conflict zones is important to the maintenance of international peace and security."

The Group applauded the Council's decision to provide an in depth report by 30 June 2009 on ways to reduce sexual violence against women and girls and called on the Security Council to ensure women's full and equal participation in conflict prevention, conflict resolution and post-conflict peace building. The Working Group also stressed the importance of ensuring that women and women-led organisations actively participate in developing mechanisms to protect women and girls from sexual violence. According to Marianne Mollman of Human Rights Watch, "Solutions work best when developed in consultation with those who are most affected." Hopefully the UN Security Council will heed this advice and give substance to their written resolve to end sexual violence in conflict zones.

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