Rape is generally defined as any physical invasion of a sexual nature perpetrated without the consent of the victim. This implies that there is apparent use of force or coercion. Similarly, it is also characterized by fear, violence, duress, detention and taking advantage of weaker individuals in usually coercive means and environments. Rape as a weapon of war involves single and/or multiple instances of rape, gang rape, forced prostitution, forced impregnation and sexual slavery (Gettleman, et. Al. 199). Currently, particularly in countries inflicted by war, the number of victims of rape as a weapon of war is estimated to be in great scales although the exact figures are yet to be established. In historical and contemporary societies, rape continues to be a crime directed majorly towards women and young girls. However, data from relevant authorities indicate that not only are the female kin the sole victims but also young boys and men.
The depths and extents of rape are great and cannot be assumed. Although the exact number of victims of the use of rape as a weapon of war is almost impossible to enumerate, there is stigma associated with rape that leads to substantial numbers of victims refusing to come forward to report the crimes.
Conflict and violence against women has throughout history been viewed as inevitable but rather an unfortunate feature of conflict. However, with strict mechanisms and bringing to justice of crime perpetrators, the negative trend is slowly changing. Crimes, either physical or sexual are currently considered not only as crimes against humanity but also a violation of human rights. Torture and crimes against women have been observed to be a great threat to societal development, peace, stability and security of the communities. The global court system, the International Criminal Court (ICC) ensures that sexual violence is well prevented with prosecution of perpetrators of sexual violence criminals being treated with utmost priority.
Africa over many years has experienced the worst cases of war and conflict. Besides this, the war has been characterized by sexual violence as in the cases of Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and the Darfur region of the Sudan. Indiscriminate sexual violence against women and young girls has been on the rise. Sexual violence in Africa is mainly perpetrated by gangs and armed groups who utilize it in evil ways in order to intimidate, humiliate and dominate women and girls. In acts described as “murderous madness”, children as young as ten months were gang raped and sexually abused.
Rape as a weapon is a violent and humiliating offense that could be inflicted on women and children. The physical, psychological and social effects on rape victims are relatively permanent. The effects of rape are not only on the mind but also the soul and in most cases, the body. Rape brings with it stigmatization and fear in the society and all its victims live each day being reminded of the tragedies of war. Some victims are disowned and shunned by their families and communities due to the trauma associated with rape. In addition, many others become pregnant as a result of their rapes and often face the responsibility of bringing up their children alone. These children in most communities are regarded as outcasts by their communities. Through the birth of children, the effects of war and injustice are refreshed at individual, family and community levels. To some women who find it impossible to cope, then suicide serves as an alternative to the bitter life experienced (Bidwell 345). Rape is not a mere weapon against an individual but also a weapon against families, communities and the entire globe.
Women tend to be more vulnerable since many societies still discriminate against women and legal systems and jurisdictions still segregate against women. Societies have over the years discriminated against women and fail to embrace the principles of gender equality. Pertaining to issues of sexuality, many countries are not free in discussing rape issues. As a result, women are continuously assaulted with fear and stigma inhibiting the discussion and justice towards the abused parties.
The establishment of local and international laws has their aims as eradication of sexual violence and sexual crimes. However, cases of rape, sexual assault, sexual slavery, forced prostitution; forced abortion and forced pregnancy are crimes that still occur in African war zones such as the Eastern Congo and Darfur. The heinous acts against women and girls often go unpunished owing to poor policy implementation. Ironically, those expected to be the ‘protectors’ such as trusted leaders, the military and powerful men are the key perpetrators of these crimes. In these regions, little is done to protect women.
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The identification of rape perpetrators has been difficult to establish due to instilment of fear, prejudice and overall discrimination and stigmatization of rape victims. As a result, many women are afraid to step forward and report any case of rape or other forms of sexual crimes. Similarly, lack of technological advancements in the war torn regions deems it impossible to medically establish any criminals through DNA testing. This way, the guilty still walk free in the community even after the grave crimes they commit.
Violence, either physical or sexual is a major occurrence against women and in some cases, men. Due to this, there are mechanisms and organizations used in the prevention of further crimes. Internationally, the United Nations is well established in institutions such as the UN Commission on Human rights (UNCHR), UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC), and UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural rights (UNCESCR), the UN Commission on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the UN Committee against Torture and the UN Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW). With the establishment of these structures such as the adoption of the landmark UN resolution 1820 (2008), it is hoped that acts of violence against women and children will be brought to justice. It is hoped that the organizations will completely halt injustice and rape cases.
Similarly, regional mechanisms have been established in the greater African region. For instance, the African Commission on Humans and People’s Rights and the African Court for Human and People’s Rights have been established to inhibit the promulgation of further crimes against women. Re-composition and restructuring of local judiciary systems and National Human Rights Commission in Sudan and Congo have been widely advocated for with the purpose of reducing rape cases (Elbe& Stefan 298).
In reaction to these crimes recognized as crimes against humanity, human rights activists and civil society groups who relentlessly promote and protect women’s human rights. The International Mechanism International Humanitarian Law (IHL) is a mechanism established under the Geneva Convention regarding the UN Security Council Resolution. Under the IHL, peace activists, especially women raise awareness on issues regarding women in conflict zones in order to promote government accountability. Under the Geneva Convention, the perpetrators of war crimes, sexual crimes and general crimes against humanity are executed. Furthermore, the UN Council Resolution acknowledges the instrumental roles played by women in addressing security and peace issues (Bidwell 548).
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On the international front, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has largely been considered as the principle judicial body. The ICC has been charged with power to exercise its authority over suspects and criminals charged with the most serious crimes such as crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression.