Crimes against Women in War and Armed Conflict
The victims in today’s armed conflicts are far more likely to be civilians than soldiers. Some 70 per cent of the casualties in recent conflicts have been non-combatants — most of them women and children. Women’s bodies have become part of the battleground for those who use terror as a tactic of war — they are raped, abducted, humiliated and made to undergo forced pregnancy, sexual abuse and slavery. Violence against women during or after armed conflicts has been reported from many countries or areas, including Afghanistan, Burundi, Chad, Colombia, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Peru, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Chechnya/Russian Federation, Darfur, Sudan, northern Uganda and the former Yugoslavia .
In Rwanda, up to half a million women were raped during the 1994 genocide. The numbers were as high as 60,000 in the war in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Equally, in Sierra Leone, the number of incidents of war-related sexual violence among internally displaced women from 1991 to 2001 was as high as 64,000 . When the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women visited the Darfur region in Sudan in 2004, she received testimonies of women and girls who have suffered multiple forms of violence committed by government-backed militia and security forces, including rape, killings, the burning of homes and pillage of livestock. Displaced women and girls living in refugee camps have reported rapes, beatings and abductions that occur when they leave the camps for necessities. Victims of rape have faced numerous obstacles in accessing justice and health care, for instance, being accused of having made false accusations, having had consensual sex before marriage, or having committed adultery in violation of the Penal Code .
A 2002 UNIFEM-sponsored report on the issue quoted a UN official in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), on the terror of daily life for people in the region: “From Pweto down near the Zambian border right up to Aru on the Sudan/Uganda border, it’s a black hole where no one is safe and where no outsider goes. Women take a risk when they go out to the fields or on a road to a market. Any day they can be stripped naked, humiliated and raped in public. Many, many people no longer sleep at home, though sleeping in the bush is equally unsafe. Every night, another village is attacked. It could be any group, no one knows, but they always take away women and girls” .
Protection and support for women survivors of violence in conflict and post-conflict areas is woefully inadequate. Access to social services, protection, legal remedies, medical resources, and places of refuge is limited despite the valiant efforts of numerous local NGOs to provide assistance. A climate of impunity further exacerbates the situation, ensuring that perpetrators go unpunished and free to continue their acts of violence. It is evident that much more effort is needed from governments and the international community to strengthen mechanisms to investigate, report, prosecute and remedy violence against women.
— The UN Trust Fund to Eliminate Violence against Women supported a project to train female ex-combatants in Rwanda — many of whom had been victims of sexual violence during the armed conflict — on women’s human rights and violence against women. The training provided participants with a safe space to speak about their experiences of violence and trauma. It also empowered the women to play a leading role in the fight against sexual violence against women and HIV/AIDS in their communities.
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