Make Mass Rape a War Crime, UN Urged

Article excerpt

Several religious groups, led by agencies of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, have begun a drive to make rape a war crime when it is used by an aggressor as a matter of policy. In a petition sent to both President Clinton and United Nations Secretary General Boutros BoutrosGhali, the groups demand that rape be specifically included as a punishable war crime under the Geneva Convention, which sets standards for conduct during war. Reform Jewish officials report that more than 22,600 signatures accompanied the petitions.

"Rape is an integral part of ethnic cleansing, of eradicating areas of ... historic Muslim populations through brutal battery of civilians, expulsions and outright murder," the petition says. Noting that the Geneva Convention does not include a distinct prohibition of rape as a war crime, the petition goes on to declare that "these rapes must not go unpunished."

Meanwhile, some 33 groups, mostly religious organizations and agencies, have called on Congress to hold hearings on proposed resolutions that would strongly condemn mass rapes of women in Bosnia. In letters dated April 5 the groups said, "In the past several months, more than a half dozen investigations have documented the systematic and widespread human rights violations against women and girls in the former Yugoslavia." The letters, which were identical, were sent to Lee Hamilton (D., Ind.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Claiborne Pell (D., R.I.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Expressing "a sense of great urgency," the letters asked the two committees to hold hearings on proposed resolutions to condemn the rapes. In the House the resolutions have been introduced by George Miller and Nancy Pelosi, both Democrats from California. …