Ten years ago, on 31th of October 2000, United Nations adopted by the Security Council a resolution (1325) that requires all parties involved in conflicts to respect women‘s rights and to support women‘s participation in peace negotiations.
Today, we still see violent conflicts spread in some parts of the world, mostly in Africa (Congo, Uganda, Sudan, …). Women suffer the worst consequences of the war, because gender-based violence is most common in military conflicts. Nowadays, this kind of violence (rape, genital torture, and other types of sexual violence) kills and maims more African women than the combined effects of cancer, malaria, road accidents and war. Unfortunately, progress is slow. Me and the Gender Working Group of FYEG think that solving the problem of violence against women should become an increasingly public issue in the countries all around the world!
Violence against women exists because of the gender inequality, that is, because of the dominance of men and subjugation of women. Violence against women can be exercised on many different levels. Women are tortured no matter what their social status, ethnic origin or religion is. I shall concentrate on the gender-based violence formed into the crimes prosecuted on international level.
Rape As A Gender Crime Prosecuted On International Level
Rape as an international crime can be defined as a crime of genocide, a crime against humanity and a war crime. Rape is a form of sexual assault – often a man’s assault on a woman. Historically it was common that e.g. the lord of a manor had the right to the young bride’s virginity or that a master took his right and made advances toward the new maid. But it is not something that people today find reasonable and it should not be carried on as a part of any culture. Yet rape still happens.
The brutality and systematic consistency of sexual violence is a consequence and instrument of war. The magnitude of rapes in the civil wars during the last decade is really horrifying.
Just an example – according to the United Nations, at least 200 000 (!) women and girls have been raped in Eastern Congo since 1998. According to Human Rights Watch, real number is much more higher than this statistic.
Rape was historically not considered as a crime prosecuted on international level at all. Even the Nuremberg Charter (1945) of crimes against humanity does not mention rape as an international crime. Rape was mentioned first as a specific crime in December 1945 by Control Council for Germany adopted by four occupying powers. The first international war crimes trial, where the defendant was charged with rape and sexual violence as crimes against humanity and war crimes, was the Prosecutor v. Tadić case on the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Two tribunals had significantly advanced the crime of rape – ICTY and International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). They defined rape for their own, because there was no internationaly agreed definition. Rape was later internationaly defined as a „physical invasion of sexual nature, committed by one person under circumstances that are coercive“. Rape as a war crime and sexual assault were included in the Geneva Conventions in 1949 which was a major step in legal development.
As the most important case for prosecuting rape as an international crime is considered a case Prosecutor v. Akayesu which was decided by ICTR. It was also a case where rape was used as a genocide. The tribunal made explicit decisions on the issue of rape and genocide. It was found that the acts of rape and sexual violence could constitute genocide. The tribunal said that sexual mutilation, the practice of sterilization, forced birth control, separation of the sexes, and prohibition of marriages could be seen as measures intended to prevent births within a group.
International Criminal Court (ICC) – which is nowadays the most important institution prosecuting the crime of rape on an international level – is a modern international institution meant to help end conflicts and impunity in the world. From its establishment in 1998 it has supported the inclusion of rape under the crimes against humanity. Statute of ICC defines now several other crimes against women, too, for instance sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization and other sexual violence. Incidents of rape and sexual violence are investigated by ICC in Sudan, Uganda and Congo.One of the most innovative aspects of the ICC statute is the focus on victim´s rights. Under the Investigation Division of the Office of the Prosecutor has been established a Gender and Child Unit, which will assist in dealing with issues arising from victims and witnesses of sexual crime. The question into the future is whether the crime of rape should stand alone and be a subject of universal jurisdiction under customary international law. Hopefully, ICC will work further as a powerful instrument for protecting women´s rights and will continue to trear violence against women as serious criminal and humanitarian law violation.
Diplomatic delegates have concluded time and time again that the lasting peace cannot exist without extending fruits of justice to women. But the revolution in this kind of problem cannot be achieved only through politicians and international institutions. Everyone (and mainly those who are primarily involved in conflicts) must realise that gender-based violence is a grand failure and the worst way to solve conflicts. Women all over the world have suffered too long. Perhaps the world in general has become more interested of getting rid of gender-based violence, but especially the second wave of feminism has since 1970s focused on ending taboo and naming violence against women.
Every country in the world should show a real interest to finally end violence against women at the international level and not only pretend finding solutions in conferences. The first step could be that every state would appeal to the Security Council of UN to make sexual violence a key priority in the mandate of the peacekeeping operations, because only the peacekeepers have the authority to take action to prevent all acts of violence and they should immediately inform their government of these violent acts.