Rape Used as Systematic Weapon of War in Sierra Leone
Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a report today stating that all parties in Sierra Leone’s ten-year civil war committed systematic sexual violence. Developed from hundreds of interviews with victims, witnesses, and officials, HRW’s 75-page report, “We’ll Kill You If You Cry,” describes alleged abuses committed mainly by soldiers of rebel forces such as the Revolutionary United Front, the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council, and the West Side Boys, as well as government and international peacekeeping forces. Between 1991 and 2001, thousands of women and girls of all ages, ethnic groups, and socioeconomic classes were sexually violated using tactics such as individual and gang rape and rape with objects like weapons, firewood, umbrellas, and pestles. HRW noted several incidents where child combatants raped elderly women, rebels raped pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, and fathers were forced to witness the rape of their daughters. Women and girls abducted by rebels were often forced into slave labor following their sexual assault, and other abuses were committed against the victim, her family, and community.
The United Nations set up a special court for Sierra Leone to try alleged human rights violations in the country. According to BBC, the ten-year war has claimed around 30,000 lives and has left countless people maimed.
HRW issued another report last June confirming that all sides in the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo used atrocities against women as a common military tactic intended to subdue the civilian population. Despite the prevalence of rape as a war strategy, soldiers continue unpunished.
In July 1998, 120 countries, excluding the United States, voted to adopt the Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court (ICC). Article 7 of the Rome Statute presents clear language defining gender crimes including rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity, and the crime of apartheid as crimes against humanity. Under Article 7, the rape and torture of women and girls in Sierra Leone and the Congo would qualify as a crime against humanity; therefore, violators could be tried before the ICC.
Media Resources: BBC 01/16/03; HRW report 1/2003, news 01/16/03; Feminist Daily News Wire