By Jamie Attard, staff editor
“War’s overlooked victims,” as reported by The Economist on January 15, 2011 focuses on one weapon of war that has often been used with impunity throughout history. The weapon is not a knife, arrow, or stick; it is rape. The article details not only how commonly rape is used in war, but also how hard it still is to measure, document, and prevent.
Although during war undisciplined soldiers may perpetrate rape, many examples have been noted of rape being used strategically to humiliate and terrorize populations. Samantha Power, in her book titled “A Problem from Hell,” provides an objective and insightful account into many such horrific examples of rape being used as a tool of ethnic cleansing in the last century, such as in Bosnia and Rwanda.
While living in Uganda last year I heard of a number of accounts of East African women being ambushed and raped as they fetched water. Certainly, rape does not occur only under the guise of war, but it is during a military conflict that it is often perpetuated with little scrutiny.
In 2008 the UN Security Council officially recognized that rape was being used as a tool of war. Rwanda’s horror resulted in the first legal verdict that acknowledged rape as part of a genocidal campaign. The Balkan war crimes court issued the first verdicts that treated rape as a crime against humanity. These actions however offer little protection for many women today, particularly those living in Congo.
Rape is not an inevitable aspect of war. International organizations and national governments must take steps to ensure prevention, punishment, and the improvement of social services. While the problem may seem intractable, there are a number of concrete steps that can be taken.
The UN should center global attention on this crime by reconciling the disparate rape statistics and facilitating more accurate and regular reporting of rape cases globally. To further mobilize global action, the international community must give a voice to war rape victims, allowing them to tell their stories and make their plight known.
In areas where judicial institutions are weak, hybrid courts should be established to travel to villages in order to gather direct accounts and evidence, and to facilitate the quick prosecution of cases. These hybrid courts need to be sanctioned by the International Criminal Court and supported by national governments.
Foreign aid needs to be directed towards ensuring that adequate prison systems are constructed to detain rape suspects and criminals. Aid also needs to be directed to train police in the administration of effective laws to protect the rights of women. Where repeated incidences of rape are not prosecuted locally, the International Criminal Court could threaten to prosecute the heads of states for war crimes.
All aid agencies and UN personnel should be provided training to allow them to identify and report rape cases quickly. UN personnel at a minimum need to ensure that they regularly visit villages to monitor circumstances and identify potential rape cases. Ultimately, the UN should ensure it deploys adequate personnel to prevent as many rape cases as possible from occurring.
Finally, aid funding should also be directed to agencies that provide social services to rape victims. All identified rape victims should be provided with a minimum level of medical and social care to aid them in their recovery and integration back into society.