Global Justice Center Blog

Violence in Africa: Sexual Assault and Legal Reparations

In 2009, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said that 29 countries used rape as a weapon of war. The states accused of using rape must be held responsible for employing intentional and systematic sexual assault to further a military objective, whether it be genocide, demoralization, impregnation, or HIV infection. A recent article, Africa: Sexual Violence in Conflict – What Use Is the Law?, distributed by allAfrica Global Media, illustrates the legal tools available to the survivors of the rape crimes and discusses the difficulties that have been encountered so far in attempts to prosecute rape as a war crime—difficulties such as the complex nature of the resources at the victims’ disposal. To access the available resources, survivors must possess a basic understanding of applicable laws—laws which are convoluted at best and unrecognized or invalid at worst.

For example, rape as a tactic of war is outlawed by the Geneva Conventions and Protocols. However, sexual violence is not specifically designated a ‘grave breach’ of convention, a distinction which, “obliges states to seek out and prosecute, under the principle of universal jurisdiction, anyone suspected of committing such acts, regardless of their nationality or of the country where the crime was committed.”

While rape is not explicitly delineated within the Geneva Conventions as a ‘grave breach’ in and of itself, it is easily definable as a violation of the law prohibiting “torture or inhumane treatment.” The case grows more complicated as the Geneva Conventions pertain to international disputes, rather than civil wars, where most of the crimes are taking place. Further, most ‘non-state actors’ do not act in accordance with the legal bindings applicable to the state and rebel groups are responsible for a large percentage of sexual violence during war.

However, prosecutors might look beyond humanitarian law and employ the definitions of the Rome Statute advocated by the International Criminal Court, which labels rape as a war crime. Further, there are proponents of “soft law” which is not legally binding but nonetheless a useful persuasive device in the courtroom. Margaret Purdasy, legal counselor at the UK Mission in Geneva, offers some hope to the prosecution, saying, “All the strands of law have their limitations and their setbacks, but they are not the same limitations; one helps to plug the gaps in the other.”

The Global Justice Center is at the forefront of this movement, demanding the recognition of rape as an unlawful crime. GJC states, “Rape is the most terrorizing and life-destroying unlawful weapon being used in armed conflict – yet not one rape-using state has ever been held accountable for the use of an unlawful weapon under the laws of war.”

The Global Justice Center espouses that rape be addressed as an unlawful weapon of war and offers a sampling of important results. Should the correct measures be taken, rape states will be held accountable for their action, accurate statistics of women raped in conflict will be created and made available, restitution will be gained by victims seeking legal retribution, and redress will be established for rape survivors who contracted HIV. Also, as stated in Africa: Sexual Violence in Conflict, the international community must also reach beyond legal services when providing aid and work to combat integral social attitudes, such as victim blaming. Further, survivors require emotional and medical resources, such as access to safe abortions, another issue championed by the GJC.

Tags: Abortion, Sexual Violence & Rape, Geneva Conventions, Impunity, War Crimes/Crimes Against Humanity, Rome Statute, Reproductive Rights, United Kingdom, United Nations, International Criminal Court, Africa, Abortion Access in Conflict, Gender and Genocide