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Religious Tolerance logo

Rape of women during wartime

Recent rapes. International law.
Courts.  Books and articles

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Rape during recent wars and civil unrests:

bulletMore than 20,000 Muslim girls and women were raped during the religiously-motivated atrocities in the former Yugoslavia in Bosnia. This was mainly during an organized Serbian program of cultural genocide. One goal was to make the women pregnant, and raising their children as Serbs. 1 Another was to terrorize women so that they would flee from their land.
bulletIt has been estimated that Iraqi soldiers raped at least 5,000 Kuwaiti women during Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. 2
bulletDuring the civil war in Rwanda: "One United Nations report estimated that as many as 500,000 women and girls suffered brutal forms of sexual violence , including gang-rape and sexual mutilation, after which many of them were killed." 3
bulletAccording to a UNESCO article: "In Algeria, the women of entire villages have been raped and killed. The government estimates that about 1,600 girls and young women have been kidnapped to become sexual slaves by roving bands from armed Islamic groups." 2
bulletOne source referred to rape of Tamil women in Sri Lanka and of women in Somalia, Haiti, Kashmir and Peru. 3,4,5
bulletAnother source referred to rape "in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Cyprus, Haiti, Liberia, Somalia and Uganda." 6
bulletA resolution of the United Methodist Church mentioned rape in the Republic of Georgia. 7

International law concerning rape during wartime:

Current international laws that deal rape are mainly contained in four documents:

bulletThe 1949 Geneva Conventions
bulletThe 1977 Supplementary Protocols of the Geneva Conventions
bulletThe body of law from the Nuremberg Tribunal held at the close of World War II
bulletThe Military Tribunal of the Far East. 3

Article 27 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states that "women shall be especially protected against any attack on their honour, in particular against rape, enforced prostitution, or any form of indecent assault."

Countries are required to punish "grave breaches" of the Geneva Conventions and Protocols in their own national courts. Article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention includes, as grave breaches, any actions willfully committed that cause great suffering or serious injury to body or health.

Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions prohibits "violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture" as well as "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment."

Protocol II Additional to the Geneva Conventions murder as well as cruel treatment such as torture, mutilation and outrages upon personal dignity -- in particular humiliating and degrading treatment, rape, enforced prostitution and any form of indecent assault, as well as slavery and the slave trade in all their forms.

Rape was listed in Article 6 of the Nuremberg Charter as a "Crime Against Humanity."

At the International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda, the rape of Tutsi women was found to constitute torture when it was "by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or others person acting in an official capacity."

Recently, rape during armed conflict has received a higher priority internationally. "...proceedings have been commenced in the International Court of Justice by Bosnia Hercegovina, criminal proceedings in the domestic courts of, for example, France, Germany and the Bosnian Military Tribunal in Sarajevo, civil actions in the USA... and of course the establishment of a International Criminal Tribunal in the former Yugoslavia." 8

In spite of the strong resistance by the U.S. government, the new permanent International Criminal Court will give future women victims of rape an opportunity to initiate lawsuits against their attackers and obtain justice. The existence of the Court will hopefully cause combatants to fear future prosecution, and thus deter future mass rapes.

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Books and articles concerning rape during wartime:

bulletThomas S. Abler, "Scalping, torture, cannibalism and rape: An ethno-historical analysis of conflicting cultural values in war," Anthropologica 34, pp. 3-20, (1992).
bulletChristine Ball, "Women, rape, and war: patriarchal functions and ideologies," Atlantis 12, pp. 83-92, (1986).
bulletSusan Brooks Thistlehwaite, " 'You may enjoy the spoil of your enemies:' rape as a Biblical metaphor for war," Semeia 61, pp. 59, (1993).
bulletMarlene Epp, "The memory of violence: Soviet and East European Mennonite refugees and rape in the Second World War," Journal of Women's History 9, pp. 58-87, (1997-8).
bulletPamela Gordon, "Women, war and metaphor: language and society in the study of the Hebrew Bible," Semeia 61 (1993).
bulletAnita Grossmann, "A question of silence: the rape of German women by occupation soldiers," October 72, pp. 54-55 (1995).
bulletGullance Nicoletta, "Sexual violence and family honor: British propaganda and international law during the First World War," American Historical Review 102, pp. 714-747, (1997).
bulletRuth Harris, "The child of the barbarian: rape, race and nationalism in France during the First World War," Past & Present 141, pp. 170-206,  (1993).
bulletStanley Rosenman, "The spawning grounds of the Japanese rapists on Nanking," Journal of Psychohistory 28: pp. 2-23, (2000).
bulletLouise Ryan, " 'Drunken tans:' Representations of sex and violence in the Anglo-Irish war (1919-1921)," Feminist Review 66: pp. 73-94, (2000).
bulletRuth Seifert, "The second front: the logic of sexual violence in wars," Women's Studies International Forum 19: pp. 35-43, (1996).
bulletHsu-ming Teo, "The continuum of sexual violence in occupied Germany," 1945-49," Women's History Review 5: pp. 191-218, (1996).

International courts which have or will deal with cases of rape:

bulletThe International Criminal Court at: http://www.un.org/law/icc/
bulletThe International Court of Justice at: http://www.icj-cij.org/
bulletThe International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia at: http://www.un.org/icty/
bulletThe International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda at: http://www.ictr.org/

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Dahlia Gilboa, "Mass Rape: War on Women," at: http://www.scrippscol.edu/
  2. Valerie Oosterveld, "When women are the spoils of war," UNESCO, at: http://www.unesco.org/
  3. "International Law Relating to Rape in Armed Conflict," http://www.alliancesforafrica.org/
  4. "Tamil Centre for Human Rights," at: http://www.tchr.net/
  5. "Human Rights Watch Global Report on Women's Human Rights," 1995-AUG.
  6. "Sexual violence as a weapon of war," UNICEF, at: http://www.unicef.org/
  7. "Rape in Times of Conflict and War: A resolution from the General Board of Global Ministries approved by the 1996 General Conference of The United Methodist Church," at: http://gbgm-umc.org/
  8. Maria B. Olujic, "Women, Rape, and War: The Continued Trauma of Refugees and Displaced Persons in Croatia," Anthropology of East Europe Review, Volume 13, No. 1 Spring, 1995; Special Issue: Refugee Women of the Balkans
  9. From: Stefan Blaschke, "History of Rape: A Bibliography," at: http://www.geocities.com/

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Copyright © 2002 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2002-OCT-30
Latest update: 2009-NOV-08
Author: B.A. Robinson

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