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Sexual assault during conflicts must be prosecuted as war crime, says expert

ANI | Updated: Jul 01, 2021 09:56 IST

Washington [US], July 1 (ANI): On the night of March 25, 1971, the Pakistani army started the now infamous 'Operation Searchlight' in which they killed students, intellectuals, and civilians in Bangladesh. Thousands of Bengali women were raped by the Pakistani army. The idea was to brutally crush the Bengali resistance.
Sexual violence over the years has also had a permanent place in a multitude of smaller, paramilitary-style strifes. With such anecdotes and accounts, sexual violence in conflict is finally cleaving through the lingering layer of shame and silence that has left victims feeling as though they are to blame -- and the perpetrators living free with impunity.
Hollie McKay, writing in The Dallas Morning News said that when rape is used as a weapon of war, it must be prosecuted as a war crime.
According to him, the world is beginning to understand the extent of sexual assault during conflicts, but there's a long way to go for justice and accountability.
The world is full of such examples, the most recent being the Yazidi girls and women who faced sexual violence under the brutal, years-long campaign waged by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) insurgents across Iraq and Syria starting in 2014.
Despite the hundreds of Yazidi women who have come forward to tell their stories of survival -- including girls as young as 8 years old who were sold to fighters and carted between Iraq and Syria on dusty cattle trucks -- no ISIS member has explicitly been prosecuted or tried for the crime of sexual violence.
"The courts in Iraq are overwhelmed with ISIS prosecutions and therefore are happy to just prosecute on basic terrorism crimes," said Anne Speckhard, Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism and a professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine. "This is not very satisfactory to those who suffered genocidal rapes and killings."

Although the language in Article 27 of the 1949 Geneva Convention states that women are to be protected "against any attack on their honor, in particular against rape, enforced prostitution, or any form of indecent assault," the crime has little presence in international justice efforts, reported McKay.
It was only in the late 1990s that rape was formally acknowledged in war crime tribunals. It has come to be a quiet stain on almost every conflict from antiquity through the modern battles of World War I and II, Korea, Vietnam, Rwanda, Yugoslavia, Syria and beyond.
The first landmark prosecution took place in 1998 at the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. However, in its 20 years of existence, that court, the International Criminal Court, only achieved one conviction for rape and sexual slavery, and that was in a 2019 case of a Congolese warlord, reported The Dallas Morning News.
It was not until 2008 that the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1820, which officially recognized rape and other forms of sexual violence as a "war crime, or a constitutive act with respect to genocide."
Nonetheless, the prevalence of such wartime sexual violence has continued because perpetrators have not historically faced retribution. According to human rights advocates, rape remains one of the most "underreported and inadequately prosecuted of all war crimes", writes McKay.
The United Nations and world leaders continue to issue words of condemnation, but words are not enough. Activists also emphasize that governments still downplay or deny state-sanctioned crimes of the past, exacerbating the trauma survivors still suffer.
Impunity for rape during times of conflict must be abolished. Without this, there is little incentive for the genocidal transgression to stop. And there is little chance that survivors will have their dignity restored and heal from the tangle of nightmares that play on a loop in their heads, their lives forever in limbo, writes McKay. (ANI)