Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones: From the Ancient World to the Era of Human Rights

Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones: From the Ancient World to the Era of Human Rights

Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones: From the Ancient World to the Era of Human Rights

Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones: From the Ancient World to the Era of Human Rights

Synopsis

Drawing on examples from the ancient world to the two world wars, from the conquest of the Americas to Muslim Central Asia, this collection of essays brings together historical work with human rights scholarship to explore the history of wartime sexual violence, its long-term consequences, and transitions to peacetime society.

Excerpt

Elizabeth D. Heineman

Revelations of sexual abuse of prisoners by personnel at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and reports of rape in ongoing conflicts in Sudan, Uganda, and Congo have drawn renewed attention to an ancient problem: sexual violence in conflict zones. Information regarding the scale of the phenomenon is imprecise, but estimates point to large numbers. a partial list might include as many as fifty thousand rapes in Bosnia in the early 1990s, between one hundred thousand and a million German women raped by Soviet soldiers at the end of the Second World War, roughly a quarter of a million sexual assaults in the wars in Sierra Leone in the 1990s, as many as half a million rapes in a few weeks in the Rwandan genocide, and perhaps two hundred thousand women conscripted to work as “comfort women” for the Japanese armies in the Second World War. in the early 1990s, rape in the wars in the former Yugoslavia and in the genocide in Rwanda received widespread media coverage, reflecting changed attitudes toward such systematic gendered violence. Although international humanitarian law had condemned wartime rape since the early twentieth century, with some exceptions at the Allied war crimes trials following World War ii it was only in the 1990s that international organizations, from courts to the United Nations, took action against conflict-based sexual violence as a violation of human rights and a crime of war.

Yet many millennia of warfare preceded the conflicts in Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and we know relatively little about sexual violence in those earlier wars. Generalizations are based largely on a few recent conflicts, each with origins and aims that may not apply to other conflicts. Equally troublingly, our reliance on recent cases provides few tools for understanding the longterm consequences of such violations as war-ravaged societies struggle to achieve postconflict stability.

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