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Combatting sexual slavery and the use of rape as genocide January 6, 2009

Posted by deepblueillinois in Uncategorized.
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As maddening as the Illinois political situation has become, it’s sobering to remember that there are even greater injustices in the world and courageous people who fight seemingly insurmountable odds to protect the rights of others.

Describing the horrific situation in Southeast Asia, The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof tells such a story from Cambodia of two women who are valiantly combatting the sexual exploitation of young girls.

Kristof paints a chilling picture of the widespread kidnapping and torture of young girls in Southeast Asia and elsewhere, highlighting the base, immoral treatment of young girls that often includes locking these young women in underground tombs and physical disfigurement for greater profit. A particularly poignant video essay accompanies his last two NYT columns. It will stay etched in your memory for years to come.

Systematic sexual violence against women in another continent has one prominent diplomat and legal scholar claiming that rape represents a deliberate tactic of genoicide in Darfur and should be prosecuted as such. My friend, David Scheffer, former U.S. Ambassador for International War Crimes now heading the Center for International Human Rights at the Northwestern University Law School, argues forcefully in this recent LA Times op-ed piece that widespread rape of women and girls in the Sudan was a systematic tactic by the savage janjaweed, military troops and security personnel in the Sudan viciously seeking to destroy women and their communities.

International prosecutors at The Hague could soon be setting a groundbreaking precedent in the case against Sudan’s president, Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir:

Hanging in the balance is whether the heinous modern warfare strategy of mass rape will be condemned and prosecuted for what it truly is: genocide. 

Scheffer explains the  legal reasoning behind the potential genocide charge:

The court’s prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, has filed other charges as well, including war crimes, crimes against humanity and “mass murder as genocide.” But the groundbreaking charge is rape as genocide, which relies on two lesser-known ways of destroying a people: “causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group” or “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.” 

Prosecuting the crime of rape under these particular formulations is unprecedented for the International Criminal Court. There were mass rapes in Rwanda in 1994, for instance, but many of the victims were quickly killed as part of the overall genocide. In Darfur, many rape victims survive, but they suffer grievous harm to their bodies, minds and ethnic identities that can lead to a genocidal result. 

Despite rulings from earlier Rwanda and Bosnia war crimes tribunals that offer guidance, the relative novelty and complexity of rape-as-genocide cases may impel the judges to stick to more familiar war crimes terrain. But the judges only have to find reasonable grounds to include the rape-as-genocide charges on the Bashir warrant. They need not establish proof beyond a reasonable doubt, the standard applied at trial. 

The incoming Obama administration is on record as pledging through its foreign policies to prioritize cracking down on the sexual exploitation of children and the use of rape as a deliberate strategy to destroy and devastate women, their families and their communities. Greater awareness and the resulting pressure exerted through media exposure, heightened diplomatic action and the international legal system can not only seek to shame the offending parties but also hold them accountable for their widespread atrocities.