Sexual Violence against Women in Armed Conflict Linked to Women's Status During Peace
Tuesday, August 14, 2007 1:54 PM

Sexual violence against women has become a routine part of armed conflict, having been used in all recent conflicts. Sexual violence in conflict is directly related to women’s status during peace. Discrimination, domestic violence, and sexual violence against women and girls are often widespread during times of peace, often due to inadequate state measures to combat these problems. Rape laws often are only applicable if the victim was a virgin, and punishment for the perpetrator may only consist of paying a fine to the victim’s father or head of household, or may consist of a marriage between the victim and perpetrator. The emphasis is not on the victim, but rather the damage the rape has done to the family honor.

Despite increasing international attention to this problem, perpetrators are rarely prosecuted and victims do not receive adequate services. There are many steps that governments could take to prevent sexual violence during armed conflict including improving women’s status and overall respect for women in times of peace, educating and training of soldiers and combatants regarding international humanitarian law during armed conflicts, and increased follow-up on crimes of sexual violence.

Sexual violence during armed conflicts has been prosecuted mainly at the international level in the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), although after strong beginning convictions both tribunals have faced difficulties prosecuting crimes of sexual violence due to lack of financial resources, insufficient evidence, or victims unwilling to testify for fear their identity will be released. Despite these difficulties, the tribunals have seen landmark cases that included the first decision in which individuals were indicted exclusively for sexual violence against women , a ruling that included rape as a crime against humanity where the ICTY set an international precedent in the cases against Dragoljub Kunarac, Radomir Kovac, and Zoran Vukovic, as well as the first time that rape was included as an act of genocide in the ICTR case against Jean-Paul Akayesu.

Compiled from: Jefferson, LaShawn,  “In War as in Peace: Sexual Violence and Women’s Status,” Human Rights Watch, January 2004