JEAIL > Volume 2(2); 2009 > Student Contribution
Research Paper
Published online: November 30, 2009

Rape as a War Crime: The Position of International Law since World War II

Arpita Saha
National Law University of Jodhpur, India
33/31, James Long Sarani, Rosy Land Apartment, Flat No. A1/B1, Behala, Kolkata, West Bengal 700-034 INDIA.
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International attention first focused on the use of rape as a tactic of warfare in Bosnia between 1991 and 1995. Rape was also employed by Hutu troops against Tutsi women in the genocidal campaign in Rwanda in 1994. In December of 1993, The United Nations adopted the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, and with that the international community acknowledged its global dimensions. What became clear to the world was that women's distinctive needs, experiences, vulnerabilities, and perspectives were being excluded in the development of both the substantive and procedural rules of international humanitarian law, as well as the remedies it offered victims. A community of elite women legal policy makers comprised of judges, prosecutors, lawyers, and investigators evolved to try these cases in International Criminal Tribunals (ITC) in Europe and Africa. During the Bosnian war of 1992-95 Yugoslav women and hundreds of other Muslim women were systematically raped and tortured in a clear attempt to advance the cause of ethnic cleansing. Several of the women took to court, and testified against, three Bosnian soldiers in the courtrooms of the Yugoslav war-crimes tribunal in The Hague. The ruling made on the rape cases between Yugoslav women and the Bosnian Serb army is a landmark in establishing that systematic rape during conflict is not merely a violation of the practice of war but a crime against humanity. In turn, sexual assault during slavery has been recognized as an independent crime under humanitarian and human rights laws. The ruling is very significant because it opens the door for many other victims of sexual violence to press for their recognition as victims, for penalties, and for compensation. It also means that effort will consequently be made to promote its application. However, whether the codification of such laws can be translated into the practical protection of women during conflict remains to be seen.

Keywords : International Humanitarian Law, War Crimes, Mass Rape, Comfort Women.

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