Last month whiles watching the news, I stumbled on a very interesting conversation on BBC HARDtalk about the use of rape as a weapon of war. Ever since that day, I have not stopped thinking about it from time to time. It made such a huge impression on me that I watched it again. So, I decided to write this post mainly to raise awareness of the injustice within our world. To be honest, I was shocked when I watched the talk. I thought this kind of stuff stopped since history. The last time I heard of something like this was to do with comfort women but even that was downplayed. Although it happened during world war 2, till this day few of the women who are still alive and experienced such traumatic experience are still waiting for a sincere apology.
After doing some research, I discovered that the awful act was carried out for a variety of reasons such as terrorising and destroying communities, for power, to produce funds by means of trafficking, to recruit members, for ethnic cleansing and so much more (1). In some places in the world such as Uganda and Libya, the rape is also carried out on men (1). Rape as a weapon of war was not recognised as a crime until 1992 when there was an incident of mass raping of women (1). It was only then that war rape was first declared as a crime against humanity by the International Criminal Court. Jean-Pierre Bemba, the former Congolese vice-president was the first person to be convicted by the International Criminal Court for crime against humanity in 2016 and was sentenced to 18 years in prison (2). However, his sentence did not last. Although he spent 10 years in prison, his sentence was overturned last year because even though he was the commander, he could not be held responsible for the actions of his troops in Central African Republic (3).
During the talk, two Nobel peace prize (2018) Laureates Nadia Murad and Dr. Denis Mukwege were introduced. They were awarded this prize “for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict” (4) (5). The programme goes on to discuss the issues surrounding rape being used as a weapon of war worldwide but mainly focused on Democratic Republic of Congo and Iraq and some actions that need to be taken to stop these atrocious acts.
Nadia Murad was taken from her village by ISIS in 2014 along with other women and girls from her Yazidi community in Iraq (4). Lucky for her she managed to escape and now tells her story of what happened to raise awareness of what happened to her and still is happening to thousands of women. Dr. Denis Mukwege initially started his work as a gynaecologist to help stop the amount of maternal death in the Democratic Republic of Congo (5). After he built this hospital, the Panzi hospital in 1999, he discovered a few months later that most of the women coming to his hospital were severely raped and have experienced sexual violence. Since then, he’s been campaigning to end the use of rape as a weapon of war at an international level (6).
Dr. Mukwege later explained during the talk about how rape as a weapon of war equates to biological warfare since the aim is to get rid of a woman’s ability to give birth thus, children cannot be born. He also explained how the whole process has an impact on the future generation such as increased risk for infections like HIV. On top of this, he described how it causes fear amongst the individuals and their communities or population because of the power used which means that much is not done to deal with the problem. Furthermore, Dr. Mukwege explains how rape as a weapon of war is often calculated by those in charge and how soldiers deliberately perform the acts on women. Most of the women presented at his hospital often have similar types of injuries and this can help distinguish between which group is committing the act.
As I watched more, I became disgusted with the fact that the perpetrator did not care about the age of their victims even if they were as young as a 6-month-old child. Likewise, I was horrified by the fact that a human being could intentionally shoot the genitalia. I am still marvelled by the fact that it is even possible. Why would anyone do such a thing? In addition to this, as long as their victim was a female that is all that mattered. To make matters worse, the perpetrator dehumanises these women and treat them as nothing but an object and it’s rather unfortunate that the women who experience such cruelty are stigmatised and are often ostracised from their communities even though they are the victims. This leads to the women staying quiet about the issue they face and suffer the pain alone because of the shame attached. This makes it hard to speak out. Also, even though society has moved forward a lot, there is still inequality against women who are raped compared to men that are raped.
Currently, rape as a weapon of war is a global problem but not much is being done to stop the culprits at local or on international level. The people responsible should be held accountable for their actions. Just as Dr. Mukwege states that rape as a weapon of war is a “fight against impunity” and so, “we need a red line so people understand that using rape as a weapon of war is simply unacceptable” regardless of the purpose behind it.
Lastly, more should be done to bring justice. More needs to be done to protect and support the victims. More action and pressure is needed to make a difference and bring the laws into action.
The video of the talk is still available to watch on BBC iPlayer. The link is included if you are interested to watch.
1. WWoW. War rape-Objectives. http://www.notaweaponofwar.org. [Online] [Cited: January 22, 2019.] https://www.notaweaponofwar.org/en/our-vision/principles-values/.
2. Bowcott , Owen. Jean-Pierre Bemba’s war crimes conviction overturned. http://www.theguardian.com. [Online] June 8, 2018. [Cited: January 22, 2018.] https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2018/jun/08/former-congo-leader-jean-pierre-bemba-wins-war-crimes-appeal-international-criminal-court.
4. Nobel prize. Nadia Murad-Facts. http://www.nobelprize.org. [Online] 2018. [Cited: January 21, 2018.] https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/2018/murad/facts/.
5. Nobel Prize. Denis Mukwege – Facts. http://www.nobelprize.org. [Online] 2018. [Cited: January 21, 2019.] https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/2018/mukwege/facts/.
6. Mukwege Foundation. Who is Dr. Denis Mukwege? http://www.mukwegefoundation.org. [Online] [Cited: January 23, 2018.] https://www.mukwegefoundation.org/story/dr-denis-mukwege/.
Montague, Sarah. Nadia Murad and Denis Mukege 2018 Nobel Peace Prize Laureates. HARDtalk. BBC News Channel, Oslo : BBC, December 11, 2018.
Written by Anita Akoto