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Let’s stop use of rape as a weapon of war

Monday February 11 2019

Nobel Peace Prize laureates Nadia Murad (left) and Denis Mukwege

Nobel Peace Prize laureates Yazidi activist Nadia Murad (left) and Congolese doctor Denis Mukwege pose with their Nobel Peace Prizes during the award ceremony 2018 on December 10, 2018 at the City Hall in Oslo, Norway. They called on the world to protect victims of wartime sexual violence. PHOTO | TOBIAS SCHWARZ | AFP 

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Rape of women and girls has been an aspect of war for as long as war has existed but it was only in 1993 that the United Nations Human Rights Commission passed a resolution identifying rape as a war crime.

And sexual assault in the United States armed forces continues to receive media coverage despite its clear and express prohibition in the “US Army Study Guide”. The Invisible War, an investigative documentary directed by Kirby Dick, talks about “one of America’s most shameful and best-kept secrets: The epidemic of rape within the US military”.


A 2016 article in The Guardian says “a female soldier in combat zones is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire” but there is a Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program by the Department of Defence for active duty sexual assault survivors.

And then, there is the courageous Nadia Murad. A story of terrorising trauma. A story of demoralising despair. A story of horrifying hell. A victim. A survivor. A thriver.

In 2014, Nadia, along with thousands of young women and girls from the Yazidi community in Iraq, was captured and forced into sexual slavery by Isis. After three months, she escaped.

In 2016, she was named the UN’s first Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking. In 2018, she became a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

By channelling her suffering into activism, she has become a voice for the captive females, even writing the book, The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity and My Fight Against the Islamic State, in 2017.

The Islamist terrorists massacred her villagers, executing men who refused to convert to Islam and women too old to become sex slaves. Six of her brothers were murdered, and her mother soon after, their bodies swept into mass graves.


In DR Congo, Dr Denis Mukwege fights against sex crimes. The physician and Nobel Peace Prize laureate stands for justice for victims of war-related rape and sexual violence. He plans to sponsor retreats for women from 14 different countries who have survived war-related sex crimes.

In CBS’s 60 Minutes programme, “War against Women”, aired on January 11, 2008, he said: “Throughout history, rape has been used as a weapon of war in all continents. “The problem is not limited to a certain time or region but has been employed in countries such as Bangladesh, North Korea, the Philippines, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Uganda, Vietnam and the former Yugoslavia.”

The UN asserts that “rape committed during war is often intended to terrorise the population, break up families, destroy communities and even change the ethnic make-up of the next generation. “Sometimes it is also used to deliberately infect women with HIV or render women from the targeted community incapable of bearing children,” says the UN.

Why is sexualised violence used as a tool of war? Power and dominance over women. Physical and psychological torture. It is used to instil fear, humiliate, punish and destroy.

Rape is a global epidemic and laws are failing women and girls. Governments should fix laws to ensure punishment for offenders and justice for survivors.

Dr Martin, PhD, is an author, columnist, educator and therapist. She lives in the US. [email protected]