In the second part of a series on gender violence in war, Deepthi Suresh examines why sexual violence is a war tactic and how international bodies are recognising the problem.
The influential International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in 2000 said that systematic violence referred to the ‘organised nature of acts of violence’ and not ‘random occurrences’. Following similar guideline, in 2008, the UN recognised wartime rape as a strategy used for gaining political momentum during armed conflicts. It has also been a means of torture, terror and punishment to affected populations.
Sexual violence has long been used as a tactic to target civilians during an armed conflict. It is widely acknowledged that socio-economic, political, and physical differences in gender create vulnerabilities. Though it is gender-based violence, tactical rape is then used to control and deliberately destroy whole communities. For example, it is a strategy used to remove populations from a geographic area, which almost amounts to ethnic cleansing. It is therefore, important to comprehend the reality, causes and implications of wartime sexual violence in order to respond to this strategy.
The failure of the state, in allowing women to be victims of sexual violence, is a grave concern. However, there has been some progress in international law pertaining to sexual violence during armed conflicts, particularly in the United Nations. In May 2012, the UK launched its Prevention of Sexual Violence Initiative, followed by the United Nations General Assembly (2013) Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, which is supported by over 150 states. In 2014 a new international protocol on the investigation of sexual violence was launch. These developments illustrate the high-level political actions being taken to address sexual violence in conflict around the world. This shift at the international level may provide a foundation for the much-needed working of the state-level responses to sexual violence.
Despite these international measures, sexual violence continues to be a war tactic, showcasing the lack of compliance with agreed international human rights law. This impedes international responses to humanitarian crises, such as this. However, these steps are still important, as the gradual move at an international level to reject sexual violence during armed conflicts represents the growing understanding that such horrendous acts are a threat to human security and international stability.
To read the previous instalment in this series, click here.