Friday, March 03, 2006

Rape in times of war

Guardian Unlimited | The Guardian | Cherie Booth on rape in times of war: "Rape in time of war is not new, but only recently has anyone tried to do anything about it. The international criminal court gives some hope. But will it ever work, asks Cherie Booth

Amnesty International records that at least 40,000 female civilians, girls and women, have been raped over the last six years in the Congo alone. A recent Human Rights Watch report on the legacy of mass rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo chronicles the level of violence against women in that country, the role that rape and other forms of sexual horror play in the perpetration of that violence, and the almost absolute levels of impunity that follow such crimes.

A look at Yugoslavia makes vividly clear the role of sexual violence and rape as a tool of war. During the Balkan crisis, women became the victims of marauding soldiers bent on murder and rape. One particular atrocity involved a systematic Serb policy of the repeated rape of Bosnian Muslim women until pregnant and then forcibly detaining these women until they delivered children - all in order to "cleanse" the ethnic composition of the children. Rape as a form of torture was also a common occurrence.

Instances of rape as torture during the reign of Saddam Hussein are slowly emerging in reports on Iraq. Although there has largely been a deafening silence about the use of rape as a weapon of war in a Muslim society, where it is such an enormous disgrace for a woman to be violated, it is clear that many women were raped in Iraq.

The exposure of Rwandan women to sexual violence during and after the genocide in 1994 is well known and has been carefully documented by Human Rights Watch. It is estimated that 25,000 women were raped, many by HIV-positive men. As Mary Kayitesi Blewitt, director of Survivors Fund, records, rapes even occurred after women had been forced to watch their families cut down

Judge Navanethem Pillay, a South African Indian and the only female judge on the Rwandan tribunal at the time, presided over the trial in February 1997."

© Cherie Booth, 2006. Extracted from Torture: Does it Make Us Safer? Is it Ever OK?, published by The New Press, in conjunction with Human Rights Watch, £12.99. Max du Plessis, associate professor, University of KwaZulu-Natal, contributed to this article.

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