Article 27 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states that “women shall be especially protected against any attack on their honour, in particular against rape, enforced prostitution, or any form of indecent assault.”
Yesterday, the Christian Science Monitor reported that rape is now being prosecuted as a war crime in Columbia. Small progress has been made. In May 2007, only 12 cases of sexual violence were filed with prosecutors appointed to carry out Colombia’s special Justice and Peace Law. Today that number stands at 228.
Local and national women’s organizations say that both right-wing paramilitaries and leftist guerrillas engaged in rape and other forms of sexual violence during Columbia’s four-decade civil war. Women and girls were raped, sexually tortured and mutilated. Many were killed. Fighters would often take control of a village and make all of the women and girls sex slaves. A 2006 report by a special rapporteur of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights said: “The actors in Colombia’s armed conflict, particularly the paramilitaries and guerrillas, use physical, sexual, and psychological violence against women as a strategy of war.”
It is estimated that the number of women and girls who have been sexually abused is in the thousands, but very few incidents were ever reported. Now, women’s organizations are campaigning to make women aware of their rights and to push prosecutors to question paramilitaries about sexual violence. These efforts have led hundreds of females to come forward, but most are still remaining silent out of fear of retaliation. Even though the conflict is officially over, women continue to be sexually assaulted if they speak out
Rape has always been part of war in one way or another. In ancient times women were routinely taken as spoils of war, raped and either sold as slaves or forced to marry their captors. Into modern times, random rape by soldiers has been seen as an unavoidable consequence of war.
In spite of a body of international law condemning rape, the use of systematic rape as a tactic of war has become a common phenomena.
Serbians raped more than 20,000 Muslim women and girls between 1991-1994 in the former Yugoslavia. One goal was to make the women pregnant with Serbian babies. Another was to terrorize women so that they would flee from their land.
Iraqi soldiers raped at least 5,000 Kuwaiti women during Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.
It is estimated that 500,00 women and girls in Rwanda were gang raped and sexually mutilated, after which many were killed, during the civil war there.
Probably no war zone in recent times has employed rape as sexual terrorism as extensively as the various military forces in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), known as the “rape capital of the world.”
According to MADRE, an international women’s rights group, no one knows how many Iraqi women have been raped since the war began in 2003. Most crimes against women “are not reported because of stigma, fear of retaliation, or lack of confidence in the police. Documenting sexual assault in Iraq by international researchers remains complicated because of widespread violence and because militias often target women’s rights advocates.
How long will men turn women’s bodies into battlefields?