Tactical Rape as a Threat to International Security: A Norm Develops

Rape in war has long been a reality. In 1992, after visiting refugee camps and women’s groups in and around Zagreb, a team from international aid agencies reported that women from conflicting parties were, “of course” being raped by opposing combatants; the team had heard, many times, “that’s war” with accompanying shrugs.

war rape
These comments were indicative of the chilling acceptance frequently exhibited to abuse in war.  The visit report noted that the two types of rape which refugee women and women’s groups had been highlighting in the conflict between Serbs and Bosnians were rape as a by-product of war and rape as a weapon of war. The response from staff in international organisations was to dismiss the term, “rape as a weapon of war”, as merely provocative or an attempt to be clever or strategically useful by developing a term designed to attract attention to what was deemed a women’s issue. These attitudes indicated that they did not take seriously the reality that rape is a weapon, deliberately planned and systematically implemented. Their comments seemed to indicate a failure to recognise that such rape was an issue for communities, men, women and children.

This failure continued throughout the 1990s. The conflicts in the former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda which occurred in the early 1990s involved widespread use of tactical rape. These conflicts were followed quickly by more widespread use of rape in Kosovo in 1999. Then, the response from one senior executive in an Australian humanitarian agency was, “rape is not a story – men are being killed”. Despite its prevalence in war, rape had traditionally been largely ignored.  Rather than seeing it as a violation of humanitarian law or as behaviour which was preventable, there had been an acceptance of rape as an inevitable part of conflict. Such a restricted view had centuries of negative implications for women and communities and had facilitated the ongoing use of rape in war. This persistent denial and mischaracterisation of war rape had according to Farwell:
“…reinforced its acceptance as a natural, if regrettable, aspect of war rather than as a crime under humanitarian law. Implicit tolerance by military and political leaders signifies implicit permission [and] can lead to condoning it and thereby to an overt strategy that utilises rape as a weapon of war.”
This long standing refusal to confront the use of rape in war, finally, gradually, began to be overcome as the 1990s progressed. This paper analyses discourse around the development of normative rejection of what the paper terms and will define as ‘tactical rape’; discourse which led to normative rejection of the broader concept of sexual violence in war. The discourse will be analysed in the context of understanding the changing nature of war, analysis of emerging case law and United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions which have contributed to such a norm rejecting tactical rape and sexual violence in war. This is based on John S. Dryzek’s definition of discourse as “the sets of concepts, categories and ideas that provide ways to understand and act in the world, whether or not those who subscribe to them are aware of their existence”, and the definition of norms as “collective expectations about proper behaviour for a given identity” as distinct from principled ideas which are defined as “beliefs about right and wrong held by individuals”. The collective expectations of the international community will be seen to have changed, with concomitant changed expectations of behaviour regarding tactical rape and sexual violence in war.
This paper examines the question: to what extent has there been an increasing commitment by the international community to reject tactical rape and sexual violence in war since the early 1990s? Its focus is primarily upon the international level because it is there, this paper argues, that there has been considerable and, in some ways, steady development since the 1990s. Understanding of tactical rape eventually led to the realisation that sexual violence in war needed to be confronted if women, men, communities and states were to be secure and also to an understanding that if women were vulnerable to sexual violence in peace they would be even more vulnerable during war.  There are other related questions to be answered: what contributions did the conflicts and ad hoc International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda make to the international community’s eventual rejection of tactical rape?  What degree of understanding and commitment to rejecting tactical rape and understanding the broader concept of sexual violence is really reflected in UNSC resolutions since the early 1990s?  To what extent do interests of human security and international stability intersect and contribute to a normative rejection of tactical rape and sexual violence?  What more is needed to demonstrate a serious international commitment to rejecting tactical rape and sexual violence?
This paper argues that tactical rape and sexual violence have finally been recognised as an issue of international security because the uncontrolled or ongoing use of these abuses is a threat to human security and to international peace and stability. In 1999, a political paper entitled Doctrine of the International Community stated, “We cannot turn our backs on conflicts and the violations of human rights in other countries if we still want to be secure”. Political will to confront tactical rape and sexual violence in war has followed more from a gradual realisation that these can be illegal, destructive and de-stabilising tactics used primarily but not exclusively, against women and girls. This greater understanding of the nature of tactical rape has resulted in acceptance that it represents a threat to international peace and security and, as such, must be confronted.

*Published in Journal of Conflict Transformation & Security (JCTS) Vol. 2 | No. 1
© Copyright 2012 by CESRAN
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