For as long as humans have used war to resolve disputes, they have used rape as a means of achieving victory.
The victory that rape achieves is as mental as it is physical. Through this grizzly act, and especially when committed on a large scale, the victims are made to feel embarrassed, ashamed, and subordinate to the perpetrators. The soul of a people is violated, forever embedded with memories of the time when all humanity was lost and average men became monsters.
Whether one speaks of the Ancient Romans in present-day Germany; the Germans in Southwest Africa; the Vikings in Britain; the British in Italy; the Mongolians in China; the Chinese in Korea; the Moroccans in Italy; the Italians in Ethiopia; the Spanish in South America; Rwandans in Rwanda; Serbs in Bosnia; Sudanese in Darfur; Japanese in China; Americans in Vietnam; Soviets in Poland; or the Islamic State in Iraq – nearly every society on earth at one time or another has been victim to, and many perpetrator of, rape as a weapon of war.
Prior to the establishment of the International Criminal Court, prosecuting rape committed during a time of war was nearly impossible. The act, in all its filth, was considered another unfortunate consequence of war, something that was committed by all sides and could only be stopped by ending the war through total victory. The roadblocks inherent in persecuting the rapists were numerous: who would be charged? How would they be brought to trial? Where would they be brought to trial? What would they be charged with? How would their crimes be proven?
Challenging the legality of rape in war was originally brought to the foreground with the signing of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. However even with the passage of this document, the practical realities of bringing someone to trial for rape in war remained difficult. The founding of the ICC in 1998 was an attempt at giving a body to the UNDHR face that had been established decades earlier.
The ICC was founded with the explicit intent of prosecuting international crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. Rape falls under the heading of war crimes. To date, the ICC has indicted 39 individuals, but rape as a war crime has been proven in not one of them.
That is, until this past Tuesday. For the first time in the court’s history, the ICC has issued a guilty verdict for, among other things, rape committed during a time of war. Charged under the grounds of “command responsibility,” Jean-Pierre Bemba, former commander of the Movement for the Liberation of the Congo, has been convicted of allowing his units to commit mass rape even though he did not partake in the rapes himself.
Through this verdict, the ICC has set a powerful precedent. From now on, commanders who knowingly and willingly let their soldiers commit mass rape as a weapon of war will be prosecuted and tried for war crimes.
Rape, outlawed centuries ago in most modern societies, remained an unfortunate consequence of war up until just a few decades ago. With this verdict, the act has been securely outlawed even in extreme situations of inhumanity. The precedent is set; it is now up to us to see that it is taken seriously.
For more information on Jean-Pierre Bemba and the Movement for the Liberation of the Congo, see http://www.ijmonitor.org/category/jean-pierre-bemba-gombo/