Rape: A Weapon of War

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that every person is entitled to life, liberty, and security of person. The Declaration also mandates that no one should be subjected to cruel, degrading treatment or torture (Agosin, 1998). Clearly women and girls raped during conflict have been violated.

Rape is a form of torture. It attacks a woman's identity and personal integrity. Lepa Mladjenovic, a psychotherapist and Serbian feminist antiwar activist, stated that it renders a woman "homeless in her own body." Rape is a violation of a woman's power that degrades and seeks to destroy her (Copelon, 1995). This paper will discuss instances of rape during conflict and war.

Sexual Violence During Conflict

It has been estimated that between 30,000 and 60,000 women were raped during the war in former Yugoslavia. It is difficult to clarify just how many women were victimized since many are now refugees in other countries and many are still unable to talk about their experiences (Richter-Lyonette, 1996).

Jean Paul Akayesu, mayor of Taba in 1994, encouraged and ordered the rape of Tutsi women. The women were raped to increase their suffering before they were murdered. He was found guilty of these crimes of genocide in 1998 (New York Times, 1998). During the 1994 genocide in Rwanda as many as 500,000 women were raped ( Richter-Lyonette, 1996).

The Sierra Leone Expo (2001) released an article recently that quoted the country's leading psychiatrist Dr. Edward Namim regarding war sex crimes. He stated that, "Sierra Leone has produced world records in terms of rape and other sex crimes, though statistics are largely inconsistent and incidents generally unrecorded."

In the 1971 War of Liberation the Pakistani army and its supporters raped 30,000 Bengali women in the course of nine-months. Women were also detained in camps until they conceived but not until it was certain that is was too late to end their pregnancies. The systematic rape of Bengali women was used to violate the "enemy's territory and honor" (Bodman and Tohidi,1998).

Sierra Leone

A report released February of 2001 by Human Rights Watch (HRW) stated that the women of Sierra Leone have not been provided sufficient protection against sexual violence. The report charges that all sides in the conflict have engaged in sexual violence against these women, with the exception of the West African peacekeeping force, and the United Nations Mission. Rebel forces such as the Revolutionary United Front, Armed Forces Revolutionary Council, and the West Side Boys have been a menace to women since the Sierra Leonean civil war began in 1991.

Often these rebel forces will rape, kill, or abduct refugees traveling from camp to camp. Recently a humanitarian corridor, known as a "safe passage" through rebel territory, was discovered to be a frequent site of such attacks. Refugees attempting to return to Sierra Leone from desperate conditions in Guinea have died in this violence and over 100,000 have been displaced. Many of the returning women said that they were abducted, raped, or sexually abused. These women are many times taken to rebel bases, gang raped repeatedly, and held for long periods of time (Human Rights Watch World Report, 2001).

It is believed that tens of thousands of girls have suffered such abuses. One young girl recalled her abduction that occurred during a visit to her aunt during a vacation from school. Rebels invaded the city where she was staying, unfamiliar with the area she was unable to find an adequate hiding place. She remembers watching terrified civilians being pulled from their homes, beaten, and even killed. Later that night she was raped by one of the rebels and declared his wife. For another year she was held by the rebel group even though she was pregnant and anemic. Before the birth of her baby she escaped and is now living with her child in a center with girls with similar experiences (African Church Information Service, 2001).


Rape and sexual violence in Kosovo took place in the wake of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The women of Kosovo were aware of the atrocities that occurred there as tools of "ethnic cleansing." Prior to the war, official state propaganda in Yugoslavia was used to attack Albanian women. They were described as uneducated women ready to have sex. The propaganda also called Albanian women baby makers that produced "biological bombs." Countless accounts describe police, soldiers, and paramilitaries raping women that were in homes, while in detention, or in flight from the country. Frequently they were raped in front of their families or other groups of people. This is especially devastating to these women who are often abandoned or blamed for such violence. In an attempt to protect themselves many of the women dressed as though they were elderly or rubbed dirt and mud on their faces (HRW, 2000).

Many Others

It is evident that in times of war women are targeted. Other refugees and civilians of war-torn areas have also suffered such treatment. The Human Rights Watch Global Report on Women's Human Rights published in 1995 discusses rape as a weapon of war and tool of political repression in great detail. Included are the women of Somalia who have suffered through civil and ethnic faction wars. These women are targeted as they attempt to collect water or firewood for their families. Rivals wait for the women to leave the camp and then strike, it is their way to punish the enemy. Women and women based organizations were also targeted in Haiti. Military personnel and civilian allies subjected women to sex-specific abuses like bludgeoning their breasts to rape. These acts were used to punish women for their political beliefs, terrorize them, or send violent messages to male relatives. Other violations have been taken place in India and Peru by security forces and militant groups. Refugees and the displaced such as the Burmese in Bangladesh and Somali refugees in Kenya also suffered multiple and repeated rapes (HRW 1995). This list does not even begin to acknowledge all of the horrific cases of sexual violence that have and are currently occurring around the globe.

Consequences of Rape As a Weapon

The pain, agony, and consequences of rape do not end with the attack of these victims. The effects often last for the rest of these women's lives. Those who survive risk contracting sexually transmitted diseases, HIV, or becoming pregnant. Those who are forced to bear the child of an attacker are constantly reminded of the invasion of their community and of their person. Some have been so badly injured in attacks that they will never be able to bear children. Some societies have religious or cultural restrictions on those who are no longer virgins. These women may never be able to be a part of their families or communities. These women may never receive any professional help for the physical, psychological, and economic damage inflicted upon them. Many are unable to bear the pain and shame and take their own lives (Chinkin, 2000).


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