Sexual Violence as an Element of War Strategies: The Scale and Forms of These Crimes in Modern Armed Conflicts

Sexual Violence as an Element of War Strategies: The Scale and Forms of These Crimes in Modern Armed Conflicts

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-8194-9.ch001
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This chapter presents an analysis of the scale and various forms of sexual violence in modern warfare, including the context in which they are committed, in order to understand the extent of the challenge posed by the systematic use of sexual violence in modern warfare. It highlights how the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war is distinctively destructive, as these crimes are often intended to tear apart the fabric of families and affected communities. For instance, in some contexts, the systematic use of rape and other forms of sexual violence was characterised by an explicit ethnic targeting as a weapon of genocide. In other conflicts, cruel acts of sexual violence are often indiscriminately used as part of military strategies aimed at civilian population to spread terror and inflict public humiliation. This destroys the social fabric of affected communities and adds a new component to the social disruption with devastating impact on victims even after the conflict has ended.
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The systematic and widespread nature of sexual violence in conflict situations is by no means a recent phenomenon. History offers too many examples of rape and other acts of sexual violence as an element of broader war strategies (R. Branche et al., 2012, E. D. Heineman, 2011). During armed conflicts, the body of civilians, mainly females, are often treated as an extension of the battleground, where acts of sexual violence are perpetrated in various brutal forms (S. Randi, 2009, C. Enloe, 2000).1

Several empirical accounts indicate that the prime purpose of the perpetrators is to inflict trauma on victims and destroy the social fabric and cohesion of affected commuties (L. Peltora, 2018, B. Diken and C. Bagge Laustsen, 2005).2 This can be evidenced by the forms of these crimes in armed conflicts such as instances of collective rapes in public settings in order to spread terror and public humiliation. While horrific data on the systematic use of rape have been reported in almost every conflict over the history, such violence gained prominence in recent conflicts as a systematic tool of war, ethnic cleansing and even genocide.

The last two decades witnessed important progress in addressing these crimes at the United Nations institutional level3 coupled with landmark strides on the part of the international criminal tribunals and, even more crucially, with the inclusion of a whole range of sexual crimes in the Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC).4 Rape allegations are included in various cases before the Court,5 and these can be dealt with as potentially amounting to war crimes6 or crimes against humanity7. Although remarkable development in this regard has been made by the ad hoc and mixed international criminal tribunals, the inclusion of sexual crimes in the ICC’s legal framework, as a permanent court, represents a milestone in the international prosecution of these crimes.

Despite the many advances made in cases involving sexual violence through the work of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) and even the ICC, such crimes continue to be inflicted on a massive scale in modern warfare. This is supported by evidence as highlighted in different United Nations Secretary-General Reports on Conflict-Related Sexual Violence8 and the 2013 UN Security Council Resolution 2106 on sexual violence in armed conflict.9 This Security Council Resolution follows well documented crimes of sexual nature in the UN Secretary-General’s reports on sexual violence in conflicts. Furthermore, the Declaration on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict adopted by the G8 foreign ministers in London underscores the fact that rape and other acts of sexual violence continues to be inflicted on massive scale and in most cases at ‘the appalling levels of brutality’ in conflict zones.10

While women are more likely to suffer war-time sexual violence, this chapter highlights how males are also victims of these crimes during armed conflicts. However, as most of the literature focus on sexual violence against women, sexual atrocities against men has remained largely invisible, and it is therefore still hard to provide the exact statistics on victims of these crimes. Before analysing the victims and perpetrators of these crimes in conflict zones, it is essential to first look at the scale and horrying forms of sexual violence in conflict situations.

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