Sexual violence in any form can have debilitating physical and mental health effects on individuals, and serious social/economic repercussions for families and communities. The United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) explains that violence against women is a problem in all societies around the world, both in times of peace and conflict.
With this context, I was unsettled to read headlines last week informing me of the “new” G8 opinion that “Rape must be outlawed as a weapon of war.” I thought to myself, “Surely rape perpetrated as a weapon of war is already outlawed…” Upon researching, I found that despite the recent flurry of activity surrounding the subject, wartime rape IS already a criminal offense under the Geneva Conventions. It’s just that the world has just been looking the other way as the offenses pile up, with little political will at the highest level to prevent or prosecute the pandemic of sexual violence committed during, or as a strategy of, war.
The Geneva Conventions, first established in 1949, mandate the humane treatment of individuals during conflict worldwide, with different protections for combatants than for civilians. The Conventions also enumerate specially “protected persons,” including women. New projects like Women Under Siege are documenting the chronic failure of the Conventions to protect women and girls (and civilian men and boys) from sexual violence during past and current conflicts, from the Holocaust to modern-day Libya.
In the face of mounting evidence of the perpetrators of wartime rape continuing with impunity, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague has been outspoken in his call for G8 leaders to take action, creating the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict initiative. With Hague’s leadership, the G8 decided on a new resolution:
“ …obliges its member states to develop a comprehensive protocol for investigations, and says amnesties for sexual violence must be excluded from all peace agreements. It promises to review the training provided to national armies, police forces and peacekeepers to ensure that those deployed to war zones can respond adequately, and supports the employment of international experts to help build judicial capacities in countries that request help. The declaration also calls for enhanced support for the victims of rape and the inclusion of women in peace negotiations.”
To support these policy changes, the G8 nations have also pledged an additional $36 million in funding.
Sexual violence at any time is unacceptable, and this new resolution from the G8 addresses the widespread recognition that women, girls, men and boys are especially vulnerable during periods of conflict. The G8’s recent efforts will not be sufficient to end sexual violence in conflict, but are a necessary and welcome steps towards the Millenium Development Goals to protect women and children’s health and promote gender equality worldwide.
To learn more, visit the Taubman Health Science Library’s Sexual & Reproductive Health research guide.