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Rape for Ethnic Cleansing

Sexual Abuse at Wartime
By Reham Hussain
An Advocate for Refugees Psychosocial Rights- Egypt
anti-rape-campaign-in-South-Africa
Photo from anti-rape campaign

To the victor go the spoils is the concept that has been used over history to legitimize wartime rape. This tradition of objectifying women during conflicts has not ceased during modern times. Despite the introduction of modern laws of warfare, armies exploit sexual violence systematically as in the cases of the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda and the current situation in Darfur.

Rape has been disregarded in conflict situations for a variety of reasons. For example, oftentimes soldiers guilty of raping the enemy’s women did not face prosecution because rape was considered a tool of war; it served to feminize the enemy and break the spirits of the fighting troops or it served as a means to boost troop morale.

The repeated and unpunished use of rape in wartime only highlights the importance of the International Criminal Tribunal’s resolution for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) which considers wartime rape tantamount to a crime of genocide.

This complements the earlier role of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) which stated that rape is a crime against humanity. The gravity of the Rwanda genocide shocked the world’s conscience and pressured nations towards a full acknowledgment of the horrors endured by these women. However, the same spirit remains absent in the case of Darfur.  In social theory it is becoming commonplace to recognize rape as a manifestation of power rather than of sexual desire. Wartime rape is no exception and organized rape in conflict takes various forms. The first is sexual enslavement in which women are kidnapped and detained in confinement centers where they are forced to satisfy the sexual desires of the army men, as well as tend to housekeeping duties such as cooking and laundry. It is noteworthy that these women are rarely of the same nationality or ethnic group as the predators.

The second type of sexual violation is mass rape with intent to humiliate and murder as in the case of the Nanking Rape, an incident in which the Japanese Imperial Army raped and killed more than 20,000 Chinese women. The Rwandan case offers the third type of sexual violation; here rape carries the intent of genocide. Hutu fighters raped and killed Tutsi women during the Rwandan war, systematically using rape and murder to eliminate the Tutsi ethnicity. 

It takes little math to estimate the number of women raped and sexually violated since the start of the conflict in 2004. Human rights NGOs estimate higher numbers of unreported cases due to the stigma of rape in the tribal cultural context.

To Terrorize

When compared to other cases of mass rape, such as those which took place in Rwanda, the Bosnian case is distinctive both in its intent as well as its legal consequences. In the Bosnian case, much like the Darfurian case, sexual violence was used as a tool of terror to induce forced displacement.

The Serbian army used rape systematically, coupled with other methods like male concentration camps and group murder, to create a pure Serbian state. The historical as well as the political development of the former Yugoslavia can explain the escalation of the ethnic tension between the religious groups. Such tension led to the rise of strong nationalistic inclinations especially for Serbia, the most dominant of the Yugoslav states. This is similar to Sudan’s multi-ethnic heritage, where a series of civil conflicts started in 1955 were fueled by a long history of ethnic and racial tension. In the Darfurian case, using sexual violence in a tribal community that guards female sexuality as part of the collective honor not only serves as a tool of terror, but also as a method of humiliation. Unlike rapes in Bosnia, the mass rapes in Darfur went ignored by the international community. United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) reports 72 cases of rape in its 90 days of monitoring in 2009.

It takes little math to estimate the number of women raped and sexually violated since the start of the conflict in 2004. Human rights NGOs estimate higher numbers of unreported cases due to the stigma of rape in the tribal cultural context, in order words, the victims prefer to deny rape rather than report it for fear of social ostracization and rejection by their own families. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia passed resolutions which criminalized the use of sexual violence as a tool of terror and ethnic cleansing. This is a step forward in the progress of humanitarian law in both scope and practice.

In social theory it is becoming commonplace to recognize rape as a manifestation of power rather than of sexual desire. Wartime rape is no exception and organized rape in conflict takes various forms.

The statute of the ICTY extended the definition of crimes against humanity to include rape, thus agreeing with the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda’s rule on the subject as both courts allowed for international intervention to protect civilians in internal conflicts.

In practice, the Furundazija case set new parameters for the prosecution of rape. It states in detail the types of sexual violations that constitute rape, unlike the vague terms used in earlier tribunals. Anton Furundazija was the local commander of a special unit of the military police of the Croatian Defense Council (HVO) known as the "Jokers."

In his capacity as head of the “Jokers,” he and another member of the militia were interrogating two Bosniaks, a woman and a male friend of hers. In Frunidazija’s presence, the other soldier sexually abused the women by rubbing a knife on her lower stomach and inner thigh with threats to cut her from inside.

Then, the soldier forced the woman to have vaginal and oral sex with him while her friend watched. Being in the position of leadership, Furundazijia was required to intervene. As a result of his inaction, he was condemned for rape as he shared the same intention of using physical, emotional and sexual abuse to humiliate the victims. The progress of international law as seen in the ICTY and the ICTR is praise worthy. Nonetheless, the rapes of Darfur are yet to be judged and the suffering of the women of Darfur remains to be acknowledged. To this day, none of the named perpetrators has been brought to justice.

The failure of the international community to recognize and heal the pain of the victims is a shameful blemish on the world’s conscience. 

This article was first published on AltMuslimah.com on August 2011.
Reham Hussain has worked as an advocate for refugees psychosocial rights in Cairo and has worked with victims of sexual violence and abuse. She is currently working on her thesis on refugee's access to HIV/AIDS services in Egypt at the Center of Migration and Refugee Studies at the American University in Cairo.

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