Rape, the Least Condemned War Crime. Human Rights are not Women’s Rights

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2003

31 Pages, Grade: 16.



Rape has long been used as an instrument of war with relative impunity. The scale and horror of sexual violence against women and girls during times of conflict have gained it the recognition as serious crimes. Therefore, rape has become subject of national and international jurisprudence.

The continued determination of women’s rights groups and other Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) have helped raise awareness and ensure protection from these horrific criminal acts. They effectively used international humanitarian law and put on trial some of the accusers. Rape and sexual violence against women during times of war has gained recognition as war crimes and crimes against humanity. However, treating rape as a war crime and prosecuting the accusers for crimes against humanity has not prevented these crimes from reoccurring. In order to prevent this horrific crime from occurring, war rape must be consider a violation of the most fundamental rights, human rights.

Human rights do not apply to women. The language of human rights creates the illusion that everyone is equal before the law, regardless of gender. It disguises the reality of unequal gender power relations that affects all societies. When addressing the crime of rape during times of conflict, the concept of equality means much more than treating all persons in the same way. Human rights activists need to address sexual violence against women as an infringement of human rights, but the only way to do that is to challenge the belief that human rights provisions adequately address women’s rights. Activists must advocate to expand human rights laws and build human rights standards to include gender specific crimes. Rape and all forms of sexual violence against women need to be clearly stated as a human rights provision.

The acceptance of violence against women during times of conflict, as an abuse of human rights will provide activists with access to the ruling by international law. Because it would be universally held to have political weight, it will provide a useful set of tools. Using these tools, women can demand the State’s and international protection, prevention against this horrific crimes and retribution against the perpetrators of abuse. To advocate human rights is to demand that the human dignity of all people be respected. Therefore, no women should be subject to any form of torture, degrading treatment of inhuman treatment.


Sexual abuses of women during wars have been known to happen throughout human history but they were not recognized specifically as war crimes. They were not investigated, prosecuted or punished, because they were not incorporated into laws. The perception and possible explanations of wartime sexual violence against women are still contradictory and controversial. Sexual war violence has been a contested issue among women’s groups, both within and across ethnic lines. It is easy to presume that in wartime reality both of these approaches, gender and ethnicity, played a major role in generating war misinformation and inciting both sexual and ethnic violence. However, conceptualizing gender and ethnic differences in attempting to understand sexual and ethnic wartime violence took prominence not only in feminist scholarship but also in the newest development of international law concerning gender war crimes.

The scale and horror of sexual violence against women and girls during time of conflict have prompted churches, human rights associations, women's rights groups and other NGOs to assist the victims and to push for the protection of women's human rights. Significant progress has been made in the last several years, including the awareness of abuses of women’s human rights; stronger international standards for prosecuting violence against women, particularly in conflict situations; and some initial efforts by governments and international actors to implement programs to support women’s rights. Still, these steps seemed few and far between, especially when contrasted with the scale and scope of ongoing violations of women’s most fundamental human rights.

Local and regional NGOs have played and continue to play, a crucial role in documenting human rights abuses, monitoring governments’ commitments to human rights standards, and campaigning for positive change. Due partly to the actions of women’s rights activists in the run-up to the conference, the UN World Conference on Human Rights, held in 1993, ended with the adoption of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action declared women’s rights. However it is no longer sufficient simply to extend existing human rights provisions to women on the basis of their equality with men. In order to understand gender-based abuses as human rights abuses, the concept of human rights must reflect the specific nature of women’s experience of violence.

Human rights activist have failed to treat sexual violence as human rights abuses that violate women’s bodily integrity. Rape and sexual assault of women in situations of conflict have been viewed more as the spoils of war than as illegitimate acts that violate humanitarian law and overall human rights. Rape constitutes an abuse of power and a violation of international humanitarian law as well as human rights law. Human Rights activists, policy makers, legislations and politicians have not dealt with crimes of sexual violence adequately. Rape as a war crime and rape as a crime against humanity is not considered a violation of Human Rights. Human rights have traditionally not been women’s rights. Differentiating women’s rights from human rights creates a dangerous misconception that there is a significant difference between the two. The degree of difference in the treatment of rape makes it clear that most of the problems lies in the international community’s willingness to tolerate sexual abuse against women, because it only happens to women. The first step that needs to be taken by human rights associations, women's rights groups and other NGOs is to define rape as a violation of Human Rights, not just Women’s Rights. This paper will examine the policies that are in place and policies that need to change in order to make this issue part of human rights activists, policy makers, legislations and politicians’ agenda.

Background, Testimonies and Outcomes

Throughout history rape has been a universal aspect of militarism, and to this day, basic military training establishes women as targets of sexual conquer. This widespread sexual violence against women in times of conflict reflects and ingrained hatred of women which views women as the spoils of war, whether for satisfying the sexual appetites of the troops, destroying the community pride of the defeated, punishing women who have resisted their conquerors, or as recent history has shown an organized, systematic patterns of rape as a component of deliberate ethnic cleansing; part of an overall strategy of genocide (Robson). Rape has long been an instrument of war. “In many conflicts, some soldiers, perpetrators, and world leaders viewed rape as a fringe benefit of war, an unspoken perk” (Scheffer). Regardless of why men rape women during times of war, violations of women haven taken place on a large scale.

Rape and sexual violence against women during times of war has gained recognition as a crime against humanity. However this approach deals with this horrific crime only after the event took place. Treating rape as a crime against humanity does not work as a means of prevention. As you will see from the several cases I discussed, actions when taken, were after women had been victimized. In most cases, actions to punish those responsible for the crimes was taken thirty and more years after the atrocities occurred. In the following section, I discuss six cases beginning with World War II and ending with the ethnic conflicts of Bosnia and Rwanda to illustrate that treating rape as a war crime or crime against humanity has not prevented this crime from reoccurring. Legal actions were taken for some of these cases. The cases will show how little has been done to punish these crimes and how none of these actions have resulted in the prevention of these violent acts against women. In order to prevent rape and sexual violence against women and to punish these crimes, these must be seen as a violation of human rights therefore universally held to carry political weight. Treating rape and other sexual violence against women as a human rights violation will help prevent such crimes (Robson).

Rape of women during times of conflict has always occurred, and often in settings and on a scale that is difficult to comprehend. In the past century there were at least six documented cases of mass sexual abuse of women during various wars; the Rape of Nanking in 1937; the case of “comfort women” and sexual slave in Japanese camps throughout Asia during World War II; the pervasive rape of German women at the end of World War II; rapes during the Bangladesh-Pakistan war in the early 1970’s; and the mass rapes of women during the ethnic conflicts of Bosnia and Rwanda in 1990s (Bassoon & McCormick). The following stories are graphic and disturbing. However, it is important to understand the magnitude of these crimes, how little has been done to put an end to such violence, and how rape and other sexual violence must be address as an infringement of human rights. If rape is clearly stated as a human rights provision, it will be universally held to have political weight. NGO’s and the international government must advocate human rights laws and built human rights standards that protect women from rape and other sexual violence during times of conflict.

Rape of Nanking

The Rape of Nanking followed the destruction of Nanking, the Capital of China, after they surrendered to the Japanese Imperial Army. Between December 1937 and March 1938 at least 369,366 Chinese civilians and prisoners of war were killed and an estimated 80,000 women and girls were raped (Chang). This invasion of China also led to the setting up of the comfort stations throughout the Japanese empire, which we now recognize as military sexual slavery, effectually ruining the lives of over 200,000 comfort women (Chang). Japanese soldiers would go in rape rampages. They would rape young girls then bring them to the rape camps. They would take away the girls’ clothes and tied them naked to chairs, beds or poles. The young girls would be raped several times a day. Eventually many girls would get sick and be left alone to die. Chinese witnesses described the body of an eleven-years-old girl who died after she was raped continuously for two days. “According to eye witnesses reports, the blood stained, swollen and ruptured area between the girl’s legs created a disgusting scene difficult for anyone to look at directly” (Hicks).

Rape camps were not the only places were rapes occurred. Chinese women were raped in all locations and at all hours. “Survivors even remember soldiers prying open the legs of victims to rape in broad daylight, in the middle of the street, and in front of crowds of witnesses” (Barstow). Chinese women were raped in churches, bible training schools, nunneries and in their homes. There was no place too sacred for rape. Japanese soldiers did not discriminate against age either; grandmothers and great-grandmothers were also raped then killed. Some women died during the rape. Those who protested because they were too old were tortured. “One women in her late eighties said she was too old for sex, so the Japanese rammed a stick up her instead” (Chang). The treatment of little girls was even worse. Girls younger than 10 years old were gang raped so brutally that they could not walk for weeks. Some required surgeries and others died (Barstow). Chinese witnesses saw Japanese rape little girls in the streets then “slash them in half with a sword” (Hicks). “In some cases the Japanese sliced open the vaginas of preteen girls in order to ravish them more effectively” (Chang).


Excerpt out of 31 pages


Rape, the Least Condemned War Crime. Human Rights are not Women’s Rights
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
rape, Human rights, women’s rights, Genocide, war crimes
Quote paper
Maribel Roman (Author), 2003, Rape, the Least Condemned War Crime. Human Rights are not Women’s Rights, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/461960


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