Signe Westi, 2016, made for Viissi

Sexual Violence as a Tool of War: Why has Impunity Existed for so Long?

Part 1/4

Most conflicts of the last century have witnessed the widespread and systematic use of sexual violence as a tool of warfare. Whether this is in the form of rape, sexual enslavement, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy or forced nudity, sexual violence was, and still is, used as a tool of warfare.

Despite the mass rape of Nanking and Berlin, crimes of sexual violence were simply brushed under the carpet and shrouded in a wall of silence until the 1990s. It wasn’t until claims of systematic rape in the former Yugoslavia surfaced in the international media, that these crimes could no longer be ignored. Sexual violence crimes were finally prosecuted with the creation of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

But why did the international community ignore evidence of these crimes for so long? This blog will chronologically examine each event of widespread and systematic sexual violence since World War I, assessing the political and social reasons as to why society has turned, and continues to turn, a blind eye to these atrocities.


NEXT POST: The Rape of Nanking: A Forgotten Holocaust?


Sexual Violence as a Tool of War: Why has Impunity existed for so Long?

The 8th of March marks International Women’s Day. This year the United Nations (UN) has adopted the theme “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality.”[1] This theme is inspired by the 2030 agenda for sustainable development which aims to (amongst other things) “end all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere” and “eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres.”[2]

In the last century, the world came a long way in pushing towards gender equality. From the recognition of the right to vote and receive an education, to the creation of specific human rights instruments specifically aimed at protecting women from discrimination. [3]

Nevertheless, when it comes to the issue of gender-based violence or, more specifically, sexual violence against women in times of war, recognition of such crimes is very new; only having been recognized as a crime within the last 20 years!

The 20,000 rapes perpetrated against Chinese girls and women in Nanking in the 1930s were ignored for 40 years.[4] The 100,000+ rapes perpetrated against German women by Soviet occupying forces from 1944 were and are still largely denied.[5]

It wasn’t until 1992 when the UN mandated a commission of experts to investigate claims of widespread sexual violence against Bosnian Muslims in the former Yugoslavia that the international community began to pay attention to widespread sexual violence. As a result, the mid-1990s witnessed the prosecution of systematic rape and other forms of sexual violence as an international crime.[6] In spite of this, the explicit criminalization of sexual violence crimes wasn’t achieved until 2002 with the creation of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC).[7]

So why has the world ignored these crimes for so long? Was it because sexual violence is a taboo topic shrouded in shame? Did not enough witnesses speak out? Was there not enough evidence? Or was this simply because tribunals don’t want “a bunch of crying women in the courtroom”?[8]

In the hope of shedding any light on this answer, we must delve back into the events of the last century to unravel the social and political reasons as to why the international community simply turned a blind eye to these atrocities for so long. This blog will chronologically examine each incidence of mass rape of the last century in the hope of unveiling why impunity has existed for so long, and what can be done to prevent this happening today.

Sadly, sexual violence is an inevitable product of almost every war. Yet this four-part blog series will solely document incidences of mass and systematic sexual violence, that was orchestrated as part of a wider military tactic.


Sophie Jackson is a graduate student from the University of Groningen. With a background in gender equality, philosophy, international criminal law and human rights, she writes about sustainable development through issues arising from serious human rights violations.


IN THIS BLOG

Part 1/4: Eradicating Sexual Violence as a Tool of War: Why has Impunity Existed for so Long?

Part 2/4: The Rape of Nanking

Part 3/4: The Rape of Germany

Part 4/4: Rape in the Bosnian War


ViissiArt: Signe Westi, 2016, made for Viissi

References

[1] United Nations, International Women’s Day – http://www.un.org/en/events/womensday/index.shtml.

[2] United Nations, International Women’s Day – http://www.un.org/en/events/womensday/index.shtml.

[3] United Nations General Assembly, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women – http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/ProfessionalInterest/cedaw.pdf.

[4] Judgment of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, paragraph 49,607- http://werle.rewi.hu-berlin.de/tokio.pdf.

[5]  T. Remme, World Wars: The Battle for Berlin in World War Two, BBC History- http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/worldwars/wwtwo/berlin_01.shtml.

[6] United Nations Security Council, Statute of the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia, article 5(g) –http://www.icty.org/x/file/Legal%20Library/Statute/statute_sept09_en.pdf.

[7] Diplomatic Conference of Plenipotentiaries, Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, articles. 7(g) and 8(2)(b)(xxii), (e)(vi)- http://www.icc-cpi.int/NR/rdonlyres/ADD16852-AEE9-4757-ABE7-9CDC7CF02886/283503/RomeStatutEng1.pdf.

[8] D. Goldstein, When Women Make Peace, The Nation- http://www.thenation.com/article/when-women-make-peace.