The weapon of rape

Today, while browsing the IHT I came upon this editorial by Nicholas D. Kristof

World leaders fight terrorism all the time, with summit meetings and sound bites and security initiatives. But they have studiously ignored one of the most common and brutal varieties of terrorism in the world today.

This is a kind of terrorism that disproportionately targets children. It involves not WMD but simply AK-47s, machetes and pointed sticks. It is mass rape – and it will be elevated, belatedly, to a spot on the international agenda this week.

“Rape in war has been going on since time immemorial,” said Stephen Lewis, a former Canadian ambassador who was the UN’s envoy for AIDS in Africa. “But it has taken a new twist as commanders have used it as a strategy of war.”

There are two reasons for this. First, mass rape is very effective militarily. From the viewpoint of a militia, getting into a firefight is risky, so it’s preferable to terrorize civilians sympathetic to a rival group and drive them away, depriving the rivals of support.

Second, mass rape attracts less international scrutiny than piles of bodies do, because the issue is indelicate and the victims are usually too ashamed to speak up.

In Sudan, the government has turned Darfur into a rape camp. The first person to alert me to this was Zahra Abdelkarim, who had been kidnapped, gang-raped, mutilated – slashed with a sword on her leg – and then left naked and bleeding to wander back to her Zaghawa tribe. In effect, she had become a message to her people: Flee, or else.

Since then, this practice of “marking” the Darfur rape victims has become widespread: typically, the women are scarred or branded, or occasionally have their ears cut off. This is often done by police officers or soldiers, in uniform, as part of a coordinated government policy.

When the governments of South Africa, China, Libya and Indonesia support Sudan’s positions in Darfur, do they really mean to adopt a pro-rape foreign policy?

The rape capital of the world is eastern Congo, where in some areas three-quarters of women have been raped. Sometimes the rapes are conducted with pointed sticks that leave the victims incontinent from internal injuries. A former UN force commander there, Patrick Cammaert, says it is “more dangerous to be a woman than to be a soldier.”

The international community’s response so far? Approximately: “Not our problem.”

To read the rest of the article, please go here.