Date: Sat, 18 Apr 98 16:56:16 CDT
From: (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: HUMAN RIGHTS: A Battle Among Men Waged on the Bodies of Women
Article: 32602
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <>

/** ips.english: 501.0 **/
** Topic: HUMAN RIGHTS: A Battle Among Men Waged on the Bodies of Women **
** Written 4:18 PM Apr 16, 1998 by newsdesk in cdp:ips.english **

A Battle Among Men Waged on the Bodies of Women

By Gustavo Capdevila, InterPress Service, 13 April 1998

GENEVA, Apr 13 (IPS)—The attitude towards women as “war booty” during armed conflicts is beginning to change, said Radhika Coomaraswamy, special rapporteur on violence against women, in a new report to the United Nations Human Rights Commission.

She pointed out that the Office of the Prosecutor of the UN tribunals based in the Hague to try war crimes in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda had charged specific defendants with sexual violence, considering rape committed in wartime a crime against humanity for the first time in history.

Past international tribunals—the Nuremberg and Tokyo military courts at the end of World War II—did not include rape as a war crime, and no one was tried on charges of sexual violence in Nuremberg.

“We hope that this will culminate in developments leading up to the establishment of an international criminal court,” said Coomaraswamy.

Such a court should recognise rape, sexual violence, sexual slavery, forced pregnancy and forced prostitution as war crimes and crimes against humanity, “to end centuries of impunity,” says the report.

Coomaraswamy, who also submitted a report on her investigation of violence against women during the armed conflict in Rwanda, said “my recent experience in Rwanda also confirms that much of this violence is universal and has subjugated women throughout the centuries.”

Women are the victims of violence waged by men belonging to the enemy community and security forces. They are often raped in front of members of their families, including their children, frequently forced to parade naked in public while subjected to harassment by members of the enemy community, and subjected to mutilation of their genitals and breasts.

Most women submitted to sexual violence are later killed. Others are abducted or forced into marriage or sexual slavery, the report says.

“There has been an unwritten legacy that violence against women during war is an accepted practice in conquering armies,” says Coomaraswamy, who points out that some authors describe the military institution as masculine and misogynist by definition, inimical to the very concept of the rights of women.

The misogyny reigning in the armed forces has been illustrated by a large number of sexual harassment cases in U.S. military institutions, she adds.

Sexual violence is also used as a means to humiliate the adversary. It is meant to demonstrate victory over the men of the other group who have failed to protect their women, and is a message of castration and emasculation of the enemy.

“It is a battle among men fought over the bodies of women,” the report underlines.

The consequences of sexual violence are devastating for the victims from a physical, emotional and psychological point of view, but few countries have personnel adequately trained to address the needs of survivors of sexual violence.

Forced pregnancy has also been used as a weapon of war to further humiliate the victim, forcing her to bear the child of her enemy.

In the case of crimes perpetrated by non-State agents, like paramilitary and guerrilla groups, Coomaraswamy shares the legal precedents set by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on the responsibility of the State.

The report says that an increasing number of women are joining the ranks of the combatants, and for the first time in history women have been charged with war crimes.

Many women, says Coomaraswamy, actively participated in the genocide in Rwanda, some of them guilty of acts of sexual violence against other women.

However, the Geneva Conventions on humanitarian law in armed conflicts framed their standards in terms of male soldiers and combatants. The special rapporteur says such standards need to be reformulated to take into account the needs of female prisoners of war, and the challenges of women war criminals.

The report highlights the edicts of the Talibans in Afghanistan, which “have placed a virtual ban on women in the public sphere.”

The Taleban victory in the civil war in Afghanistan has thus had a devastating effect on the health sector in Kabul, where nurses formed the base of the health system. Nurses who tried to attend patients were repeatedly beaten by Taleban militia, says the report, which clarifies however that all the factions involved in the war in Afghanistan violated the rights of women.