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Rape As A Weapon Of War

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

“Men who rape in war are ordinary Joes, made unordinary by Entry into the most exclusive male-only club in the world. Victory in arms brings group power undreamed of in civilian life. Power for men alone….A certain number of soldiers must prove their newly won superiority – prove it to a woman, to themselves, to other men. In the name of victory and the power of the gun, war provides men with a tacit license to rape” [1] .

Although rape was first recorded as a war crime in 1474, it has only developed as a core part of humanitarian law during the 20th century. Before that, rape was largely viewed as a “trophy of war.”Rape in war is time-honoured military policy; soldiers’ rape women of the enemy as part of their victory and as a means of terrorizing and mortifying the enemy in an effort to remove them from the area. The United Nations Security Council recognized sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) as a threat to world peace and security by adopting Security Council Resolution (SRC) 1820 in June 2008. The heinous practice [rape and abuse of women] constitutes a premeditated weapon of war [2] as patterns of rape strongly suggest that over ages a systematic rape policy has been creatively used as a deliberate manoeuvre against the enemy. Wartime rape is different from other forms of sexual violence, for instance intimate partner rape, given that it is more often than not used as “a weapon wielded by male soldiers of one country (or national, political, or cultural group) against typically unarmed female civilians of another” [3] . SGBV during conflict can fulfil larger premeditated objectives. The strategic rape theory states that SGBV is a device to subdue populations, instil fear, restrict economic activity, stigmatize women, deliberately pollute the bloodline of the victimized population [4] , demoralize society and family structures and contribute to bonding of perpetrators through the act of rape. It has been argued that it is the gender of women that makes them targets of rape; as property of the enemy they are raped, tortured, killed or forcefully impregnate in order to bear the enemies children and prevent them from producing their own nation. In agreement, it can be argued that it is unleashed nationalism that is responsible for mass rapes in war. Nationalism creates the notion of “otherness”, this “otherness” was created by the German state apparatus during the second world war in an attempt to ethnically cleanse the Jews. It is the state that becomes responsible for creating an ethnic war. Nationalist movements place women in a role of “reproducers” of the nation which makes them targets of nationalist violence [5] . When extreme nationalism is unleashed it breeds violence and leads to acceptance of male aggression towards women because of the way they are defined by the state [6] .

In the summer of 1942 as the Wehrmacht advanced towards the Volga and into the Caucasus, the Soviet authorities made much of the image of “the violation of the Motherland”. Calls to avenge the Motherland, violated by the Wehrmacht’s invasion, had given the idea that almost any cruelty would be allowed and that the soldiers of the Red Army could take German women as their lawful booty and break their racial pride. Natalya Gesse, a close friend of the scientist Andrei Sakharov, had observed the Red Army in action in 1945 as a Soviet war correspondent. “The Russian soldiers were raping every German female from eight to eighty”, “It was an army of rapists‟. Yelena Rzhevskaya, an interpreter with the 3rd Shock Army, and a friend of hers, were deeply shaken by what they witnessed in Germany. “On the route to Germany,‟ wrote Rzhevskaya later, “rape had become acceptable”. Today a tiny handful Red army veterans are prepared to speak openly about the mass rapes in Germany, however, are totally unrepentant. “They all lifted their skirts for us and lay on the bed”, said the Komsomol leader in a tank company. He even went on to boast that “two million of our children were born”in Germany. “Our fellows were so sex-starved”, a Soviet major told the British journalist Alexander Werth, “that they often raped old women of sixty, seventy or even eighty – much to these grandmothers‟ surprise, if not downright delight”. Domination and humiliation permeated most soldiers‟ treatment of women in East Prussia. The victims not only bore the brunt of revenge for Wehrmacht crimes, they also represented an atavistic target as old as war itself. [7] 

Most recently the methodical use of rape as a war tactic was employed in Bosnia and Kosovo and in the civil wars in Rwanda, Liberia and Uganda. History suggests that systematic rape was used in the war for independence in Bangladesh, in anti-Chinese riots in Indonesia and on a massive scale by Japanese soldiers in China and Korea during the Second World War [8] .

Based on materials from the Bosnian war (1992-4) there is evidence to suggest that rape was used as a rite of initiation. Soldiers or fellow Serbs were forced into a brotherhood of guilt by being forced to rape; those who refused to do so were humiliated, some were castrated or even killed. This also explains the frequent use of gang rape. Twenty three year-old Cvijetin Maksimovie from Lukavac near Brcko in the northern part of Bosnia was one of those who were forced to perform rape attacks. In his own words: “It was outside the camp area – there was a sentry box there where we used to hang out, and two men came to get me. They were called Dino and Colo; they were either Arkan or Seselj soldiers, I’m not sure which. . . . They came to get me to butcher three men. They led them outside and gave me a knife. I said I’d never done anything like that, and I couldn’t do it. I said up until then I hadn’t even butchered a calf, let alone people. Then this Dino, I think it was Dino, he took my hand and put the knife into it and said, ‘then I’ll show you how you butcher,’ and then we did it together. Three other guys held the man down. He was about forty years old and not too tall. I looked at him while I was killing him. It was very hard for me to do it, I was afraid because of all the soldiers who were watching, and I was unhappy to have to do it. The soldiers were laughing and talking together. I don’t know what they said; I was completely. I felt terrible. Then they cursed my mother and my father: ‘What kind of a Serb are you anyway? We travelled four or five hundred kilometres to fight here in Bosnia, and you’re not even a real Serb!’ Then I had to kill the other two. They said, ‘If you don’t butcher them, we’ll butcher you.’ I never thought I would ever do such a thing. I don’t know what the other two men looked like, they were in a bad way, they looked like, they were in a bad way, they looked like they’d been beaten, and the things they had on were torn. And then I killed them; they died quickly. The other soldiers said I wasn’t a real Chetnik, not a real butcher. ‘Let’s go get eighty of them so we can see if he can at least kill them with a gun.’ They gave me a machine gun, and eighty people had to go stand in a row; some of them were women. And so I shot them. With a few rounds in the chest. I took one or two minutes. Later on after they led me away I heard some more shots, probably some of them were only wounded. They said I wasn’t a real Chetnik and now I would have to prove to them if I was at least a real man.

They led me into a room in the camp halls. . . . ‘Here are twelve broads for you.’ The women

were already there when I got there, and five or six soldiers came in too. I was supposed to

rape the women. . . . At the end they said they’d forgive me this time, but not next time. And

then they let me go” [9] . Rape in Bosnia, was used to recreate clear distinctions between heretofore integrated groups: Serbs, Muslims and Croats. During the war in Bosnia a considerable number of rapes were reported. A rough estimate is that between 20,000 (European Community figures) and 50,000 (the Sarajevo State Commission for Investigation of War Crimes) rape victims exist [10] . Some were raped in their own houses, others in brothels, and still others in rape camps. Particularly horrifying is the practice of forced impregnation that occurred in some rape camps set up in Brcko, Dboj, Foca, Gorazde, Kalinobik, Vesegrad, Keatern, Luka, Manjaca, Osmarka and Tronopolje [11] . Women in some camps were continuously raped until a doctor or a gynaecologist established pregnancy [12] and held in captivity until abortion was no longer possible [13] . Bearing a child resulting from rape can be seen as an exceedingly callous form of torture [14] or as an integral part of strategic ethnic cleansing.

During the 1991-2001 conflict of Sierra Leone, innumerable atrocities were committed by the rebel forces. In order to demonstrate their power and impunity, the rebels used sexual violence as a weapon against the civilian populations. With civilians being the primary target of attack, women were particularly vulnerable to violence during the civil war. This violence included gang rape, sexual slavery, and assault. Human Rights Watch has documented cases of fathers being forced to watch the rape of their daughters, and boys as young as eleven raping middle-aged women. There is evidence to suggest that girls were raped during the sacred coming-of-age rituals. Knives, guns, sticks and any other objects imaginable that can be inserted into vaginas have been additional instruments in brutal rapes causing severe genital mutilation and spreading sexually-transmitted infections, most notably HIV-Aids [15] . AFRC and RUF forces frequently abducted girls and young women, forcing them into sexual slavery for the forces, into marriage with commanders and some were beaten, mutilated, raped, and killed by child soldiers and their adult commanders. Sexual violence has been accepted as a part of armed conflict and encompasses many different crimes, including rape, sexual mutilation, sexual humiliation, forced prostitution, and forced pregnancy. The rebel factions used sexual violence to terrorise the civilian population-to humiliate (in failing to “protect” their women, men are humiliated, and seen as weak) and punish them, and eventually to control them. Sexual violence in this war was intended to break taboos and undermine cultural values. Sexual violence can be seen as a means of troop mollification, particularly where women are forced into military sexual slavery. [16] Women were raped in systematic ways in Rwanda, Somalia, DRC, Ivory Coast, Liberia and Zimbabwe. Rape was used as a weapon of war in Eastern DRC from 2004 to 2008, along with Congolese and Rwandan militias, the DRC army raped tens of thousands of women in this four-year period with manifold implications. [17] 

Stories of terrible rape have been a feature of the Democratic Republic of Congo during the years of civil war and conflict that have scarred the country since war broke out in 1998.Fighting began in the eastern part of the Congo in 1998 and it continues to be plagued by army and militia violence-becoming to be known as “Africa’s World War” responsible for about 5.4 million deaths – making it the deadliest conflict since the Second World War. Entrenched ethnic disputes and the struggle for control of the country’s rich natural resources are the causes for continued fighting. According to the UN, more than 8,000 women were raped during combating in 2009. A report by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative in April showed that 60 per cent of rape victims in one part of the country were attacked by the military, with a large proportion of them gang raped. Between 30 July and 3 August, Rwandan and Congolese rebels besieged the village of Luvungi in North Kivu, separated men from wives – and sometimes babies from mothers – before engaging in the mass rape of between 150 and 200 women. Giorgio Trombatore, country director for the International Medical Corps IMC in the Congo confirmed that “two hundred to four hundred armed men systematically pillaged and raped women in the villages”. [18] 

In Burma for decades rape has been used by the regime to control the population and to punish the armed resistance groups. Burmese military soldiers rape women and girls from the Shan, Kachin, Chin, Karen, Mon, Karenni and Arakan states with impunity. Ma Iang was returning home from a nearby village when she was abducted by Burmese soldiers in May 2003. The soldiers took her and another hostage into the forest where they raped her and forced the male hostage to watch and drink poison laced alcohol. When villagers from Paletwa New Town discovered their bodies, they reported that Iang’s face seemed distorted, her panties had been stuffed in her mouth and her skirt covered her face. The male hostage appeared to have been poisoned. Iang’s parents tried to file the case with military authorities, but received no response. In another case, a woman was stripped naked and hung on a cross, mocking her Christian religion and indicating that sexual violence is being deliberately used as a weapon to torture and terrorize local ethnic populations into submission. Most of the rapes are gang rapes and about a third of the rapes are committed by officers, showing that there is a collective understanding among the troops that they can rape without consequence and that rape is acceptable and even encouraged. Concerns have been raised about the widespread use of sexual violence by the regime’s troops by the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Burma. However, the SPDC denies this atrocity and the sexual violence continues. [19] 

Even U.S. forces are accused of using rape as a war technique in Iraq.CBS News released photographs showing the heinous sexual abuse and torture of Iraqi POW’s at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison [20] . At least one picture shows an American soldier apparently raping a female prisoner while another is said to show a male translator raping a male detainee. Further photographs are said to depict sexual assaults on prisoners with objects including a truncheon, wire and a phosphorescent tube. Another apparently shows a female prisoner having her clothing forcibly removed to expose her breasts.Detail of the content emerged from Major General Antonio Taguba, the former army officer who conducted an inquiry into the Abu Ghraib jail in Iraq. Journalist Ernesto Cienfuegos stated in La Voz de Aztlan on May 2, 2004: “Apparently, the suspended US commander of the prison where the worst abuses took place, Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, has refused to take the fall by herself and has implicated the CIA, Military Intelligence and private US government contractors in the torturing of POW’s and in the raping of Iraqi women detainees as well.” [21] 

Rape in war was not condemned in ancient times, infact it was deemed necessary as a “spur to the courage of troops” [22] . Rape is a strategy utilized by the winning side, as they advance the retreating side leaves behind women and children. The winning side does the raping and the losing side tries to publicize these rapes in order to gain sympathy of the other countries so that they can unite together and help the losing side [23] . “Men of a conquered nation traditionally view the rape of “their women” as the ultimate humiliation; a sexual coup de grace…..Rape by a conquering soldier destroys all remaining illusions of power and property for men of the defeated side. The body of a raped woman becomes a ceremonial battlefield; a parade ground for the victor’s trooping of the colours. The act that is played out upon her is a message passed between men-vivid proof of victory for one and loss and defeat for the other [24] “. War time rape is used against the losing side as a blatant tactic, firstly to express the totality of victory. Secondly, as a tool of mollification and control of their own troops. During World War II, a Yugoslav reporter questioned Stalin about the 121 rapes committed by the red army during their march through northwest Yugoslavia; Stalin’s reply is said to have been “[d]oes [one], who is himself a writer, not know what human suffering and the human heart are? Can’t he understand it if a soldier who has crossed thousands of kilometres through blood and fire and death has fun with a woman or takes some trifle? [25] “.Thirdly war time rape is used as a weapon of genocide.


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