The UN is set to discuss sexual violence this Thursday in a special session sponsored by the US. Systematic rape has been used as a weapon of war forever but, to date, has not been given the kind of attention in deserves by the international community. A proposal to define rape as a security issue, as has been done with the the AIDS pandemic and the climate crisis, could give much needed resources and power to peacekeeping forces to prevent and treat victims of systematic rape.
Nicholas Kristof notes in the International Herald Tribune that mass rape is used as a weapon of war because it is a terribly effective method of acheiving sinister ends:
First, mass rape is very effective militarily. From the viewpoint
of a militia, getting into a firefight is risky, so it’s preferable to
terrorize civilians sympathetic to a rival group and drive them away,
depriving the rivals of support.
Second, mass rape attracts less international scrutiny than piles of
bodies do, because the issue is indelicate and the victims are usually
too ashamed to speak up.
The world was shocked to learn of the "rape camps" operated by Serbian forces in 1993. And there are currently at least two places in which systematic rape is being used as a weapon in conflict:
In Sudan, the government has turned Darfur into a rape camp. The
first person to alert me to this was Zahra Abdelkarim, who had been
kidnapped, gang-raped, mutilated – slashed with a sword on her leg -
and then left naked and bleeding to wander back to her Zaghawa tribe.
In effect, she had become a message to her people: Flee, or else.
Since then, this practice of "marking" the Darfur rape victims has
become widespread: typically, the women are scarred or branded, or
occasionally have their ears cut off. This is often done by police
officers or soldiers, in uniform, as part of a coordinated
When the governments of South Africa, China, Libya and Indonesia
support Sudan’s positions in Darfur, do they really mean to adopt a
pro-rape foreign policy?
The rape capital of the world is eastern Congo, where in some areas
three-quarters of women have been raped. Sometimes the rapes are
conducted with pointed sticks that leave the victims incontinent from
internal injuries. A former UN force commander there, Patrick Cammaert,
says it is "more dangerous to be a woman than to be a soldier."
The discussion of this issue on the international community’s largest stage is long overdue and we hope that the talks yield significant action to begin compensating for the inexcusable delay.