The common man is always at the receiving end at times of war or conflict and the worst is that women and girls are the most vulnerable to sexual violence and exploitation. As Russian invasion of Ukraine entered 100 days, rape as a weapon is used in war as allegations of sexual violence by Russian troops in Ukraine are mounting.
As of 3 June, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) had received reports of 124 alleged acts of conflict related sexual across Ukraine – mostly against women and girls. It said that a national hotline had received reports of crimes ranging from gang rape to coercion to watch an act of sexual violence committed against a partner or a child.
PAINFUL REALITY AND THE GLOBAL COMMUNITY’S AMBITIO
Recalling her recent visit to Ukraine, Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Pramila Patten in the Security Council on June 6 voiced regret over a stark discrepancy between that painful reality and the global community’s ambition to end the use of rape as a tactic of war.
“Too often have the needs of women and girls in conflict settings been side-lined and treated as an afterthought,’ she said.
Recalling the Council’s many resolutions — backed up by international law – prohibiting the use of sexual violence as a tactic of war, she said; ” Painfully, my visit cast into stark relief the gap that still exists between the aspiration of prevention expressed by this Council through the robust normative framework that has been established over the past decade and the reality on the ground for the most vulnerable.”
In her speech, Pramila Patten urged humanitarian actors to prioritize support for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence as a life-saving component of their work and warned against waiting to act. “We do not need hard data for a scaled-up humanitarian response, nor for all parties to put in place preventive measures,” she stressed, detailing the provisions of the recently signed framework – which seeks to strengthen cooperation between those working to combat and deter sexual violence in Ukraine and reduce the risk posed by human traffickers – and calling for the international community’s steadfast support.
MOST HIDDEN CRIME
Describing sexual violence as “the most hidden crime”, Co-Founder and Director of Strategic Development for the Ukrainian Women’s Fund Natalia Karbowska said “for every girl or woman who is willing to tell her story, there are many others who will be silent for years. The Russian Federation is using sexual violence and rape as instruments of terror to control civilian.”
She noted that human rights activists and law enforcement agencies. estimate that hundreds of cases have been committed not just against women and girls, but also men and boys and people of other gender identities,
RAPE AS A WEAPON OF WAR
Sexual violence has also been used as a weapon in conflicts to humiliate, subjugate, and terrorise populations through history. Its use as a weapon of war was seen during World War II when both Allied and Axis armies committed rape as a means of terrorizing enemy civilian populations and demoralizing enemy troops. The worst examples were the sexual enslavement of women in territories conquered by the Japanese army and the mass rape committed against German women by advancing Russian soldiers.
The second half of 20th century saw cases of rape in more than 20 military and paramilitary conflicts. In the 1990s, rape was used as an instrument of ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia and as a means of genocide in Rwanda. It is the same in Sierra Leone, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Colombia, Guatemala, Peru, Bosnia-Herzegovina.
It was not until 1992, in the face of widespread rapes of women in the former Yugoslavia, that the issue came to the attention of the UN Security Council. On 18 December 1992, the Council declared the “massive, organized and systematic detention and rape of women, in particular Muslim women, in Bosnia and Herzegovina” an international crime that must be addressed.