Quid Rides? De te Fabula Narratur

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Rape as a Weapon of War

Posted by Anthony on March 10, 2009

By Anthony J. Aschettino

On Wednesday, March 4th, 2009, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity stemming from the Sudanese governments involvement in suppressing what they term “rebel groups” in Darfur. Casualty estimates are somewhere around 300,000 dead and 2.7 million forced to flee, a large majority of them civilian who were purposefully targeted.

These statistics alone would seem to warrant a criminal trial for a leader under whose authority such acts were committed. There is another tactic being used, however, by the Sudanese military in order to spread fear and terror in Darfur and its use is just as criminal and horrific: organized rape.

Rape has been used as a tactic during warfare since ancient times; its use was encouraged in the bible against enemy tribes of the Hebrews. During Roman times, the systematic slaughter of all men and rape/ enslavement of the women was a commonplace occurrence during the sacking of an enemy city. During this time period women were seen as property, and thus to the victor went the spoils of war. Such an attitude continued in warfare up to about the modern era, when rape during war became a much more selective and systematic process.

Ironically, since the Sudanese government’s military is made up primarily of Muslims, Islam forbade the use of rape during war, calling it a “terror tactic”; the punishment was, regardless of the offender’s religion, death. It is yet another example of how progressive Medieval Islam was in dealing with issues of human rights, sadly a far cry from how some of its adherents treat the same issues today.

During the modern era, rape in war has become a terror tactic: militaries use it in order to either exact revenge on a populace or to sow fear in the hopes that it will affect the enemies’ ability to fight and will undermine civilian morale.

During the Second World War, the Japanese military committed atrocities in China and Korea using rape (and sexual slavery) quite liberally: during the Nanking Massacre, Japanese soldiers systematically raped 80,000 Chinese women. Likewise, about 200,000 Chinese and Korean women were pressed into sexual slavery as “comfort women” for the use of Japanese soldiers.

More grotesquely, the invading Soviet Red Army raped up to 2,000,000 German women during the closing months of the war and in the few years thereafter. Tens of thousands of German women killed themselves in order to avoid being among the statistics in the worst act of mass rape in history.

During the Bosnian War in the early 1990s, Serbian forces set up actual “rape camps” where Muslim women were brought to be systematically gang raped with the intention that they would eventually become pregnant. The desire here was not only to ethnically cleanse the former Yugoslavia of Muslims but also to breed a new generation in which the children of such rapes would have Serbian, Christian fathers. As many as 50,000 women were raped during the war with about 35,000 subjected to the rape camps.

During the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 between 250,000-500,000 women were raped as part of the attempt by Hutu militias to ethnically cleanse the state of Tutsis. In Darfur, rape is so widespread that Pamela Shifman (the UNICEF advisor on violence and sexual exploitation) reported that “every woman or girl she spoke to had either endured sexual assault herself, or knew of someone who had been attacked”, a testimony to the ongoing use of rape against refugees in the internally displaced persons camps.

The use of rape in war victimizes women twice: initially, by the very act itself and the physical (such as vaginal fistulas) and mental scars it inflicts on the women. Often the women are raped as their male relatives are made to watch in order to amplify the effect of the rape. Sadly most women are then subjected to scorn and shame, especially if they are pregnant as a result of the rape and are ostracized by their communities in the aftermath.

The world has a moral obligation to put an end to this horrific aspect of war, specifically by prosecuting both those who commit the crime and those who allow and/ or encourage it to occur under their watch. War rape is terrorism plain and simple, and any civilized society must strive to prevent such acts lest they find their own humanity degraded.

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