Finally last year the UN Security Council voted unanimously classifying rape as a weapon of war (they’re a real bunch of rocket scientists out there in New York). The great tragedy is that it has taken the UN more than 50 years to recognise this brutal atrocity as a war crime and condemn it!
What remains to be seen is whether or not the resolution will act as a deterrent to war criminals. I'm not optimistic. There rarely are repercussions for the accused and war tribunals just don't cut it as justice in my books.
I remember how absolutely torn I had felt during the Bosnian war. Thousands of Bosnian women were raped and impregnated in specially designed rape camps! Soldiers got to live out their most sick fantasies in the line of duty. It was a war tactic exclusively targeting an ethnicity by ensuring an entire generation of reminders would be born. The ultimate living memorial of how your enemy ‘had’ you.
Their ethnic cleansing went far beyond mass murders, it included forced impregnation and imprisonment until abortion was no longer an option.... forced maternity... forced "motherhood" of ethnically altered offspring was the more polished war tactic. The war may have ended over a decade ago but today, in 2009, a generation of young men and women coming of age, are still traumatised by the stigma of being the unwanted products of mass rape. Ostracised by their communities, burdened by the hatred of their mothers, or grown up as orphans, they now try to piece together lives with a semblance or normality.
The Rwandan genocide is perhaps the most atrocious and inhumane slaughter of our time. Propaganda was circulated amongst the Hutus describing the Tutsi women as thinking themselves more superior to Hutu men. Rape was no ordinary sexual crime in Rwanda. The savagery extended to the use of machetes and other objects to mutilate women's sexual organs. Their breasts were cut off, and their unborn foetuses speared. The minutes of the trial of Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, the National Minister of Family and Women's Affairs reveal how women can be as monstrous as men during war. In reading the transcript of her tribunal, you realise that the image of a nurturer, a mother, and care-giver is not what every woman is! Perhaps the Idi "Amina" of Rwanda. She was sent to her hometown to quell a revolt against the genocide. As the women were rounded up for slaughter, she commanded the militia to rape the women before killing them. She also used rape to reward the soldiers for their killings, goading them on. Tutsi women were taken as sex slaves, and some survivors have described how primitive instruments and banana tree stamens were used to violate them. 70% of survivors contracted HIV.
The strategic use of rape during combat took on a new dimension during the war on Iraq. The pillaging American army denies the authorisation of the use of rape and sexual violence as a combat strategy but the victims of Abu Ghraib bear testimony to the atrocities committed against men and women. The war criminals identified sexual violence as the most degrading and humiliating tactic that could be adopted. Sexual torture and victimisation was strategically employed as a means to shame and dishonour the young Iraqi men and women. The systemic torture bears witness that the Abu Ghraib stories were not isolated and were not just fleeting moments of insanity of the officers, but rather points to the carefully mapped out plans of penetrating deep into the psyche of the Iraqis, Arabs, and Muslims and mechanically meting out punishments that would further degrade and humiliate them. Women victims who have been ostracised by their communities have turned to prostitution and begging as a means of survival. Others have willingly sacrificed themselves, or given up the fight to continue existing.
Women in war are victims three-fold. First as rape victims, sometimes even in front of their families, secondly they are ostracised from their communities for being dishonoured and lastly they are forced to bear and rear the unwanted products of being tortured, that bear witness to the tragedy long after it has been erased from most people's minds.
Rape has been a war strategy for centuries and because it is an act of power and humiliation, it is unlikely that mere UN resolutions will erase it from history or from our future.