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Crimes of war

December 12, 2018

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IN a year that witnessed an unprecedented groundswell of testimonies from survivors of sexual violence across the globe, the joint Nobel Peace Prize winners for 2018 shed light on the lack of justice for the countless victims of rape in conflict zones. In their emotionally charged acceptance speeches, Nadia Murad, an Iraqi-Yazidi rights activist and survivor of sexual slavery under the militant Islamic State group, and Dr Denis Mukwege, a Congolese gynaecologist committed to treating victims of sexual assault in his home country, called upon the world community to do more to protect girls and women from wartime sexual assault. Far from offering comforting platitudes, their speeches served as searing indictments of the indifference of powerful actors to hold perpetrators of such brutality to account.

Their lack of cause for celebration is not without reason. While rape and other forms of sexual violence have been used as weapons of war throughout human history, it is only in the last two decades that the international community has grown to recognise that such acts can constitute deliberate war crimes, crimes against humanity, and constitutive acts of ethnic cleansing or genocide. And though such instruments being encoded in international and national laws are significant steps in prosecuting such crimes, they will remain ineffective so long as current mindsets regarding the sexual abuse of women remain. Whether in peacetime or during conflict, it is the victim of sexual violence — not the perpetrator — who is more often than not stigmatised and penalised by her community. Until nations provide an unequivocal path to justice for victims of wartime sexual violence, including all the necessary resources to repair and rebuild their shattered lives, women’s bodies will continue to be used as a frontline for waging war. In the years ahead, the hope is that the clarion call of brave human rights campaigners such as Ms Murad and Dr Mukwege is honoured by acting to end impunity for wartime rape.

Published in Dawn, December 12th, 2018