The unprosecuted war crime

Mariam, a 22-year-old mother of two, has been a refugee in Chad since fleeing the conflict in Darfur six years ago. For the last three years she has been a social worker for an international NGO in the refugee camp. In April her co-worker attacked and raped her. Unusually, Mariam’s husband supported her, and they have filed complaints — but while the man has been sacked, it is still not clear if further legal action has been taken.

Maja lives in a village in a remote part of Bosnia and Herzegovina. She is a Bosnian Croat living in a Serb-dominated area. During the 1992-95 war she was raped by a member of the Bosnian Serb army. She filed a complaint against him at a police station but there was never any investigation. In 2008 she went to the station to see the file on her complaint. The police officer said they no longer had it, as they destroy files after 10 years due to the statute of limitation. When she (rightly) pointed out to him there is no statue of limitation on war crimes — and rape in conflict is a war crime — the officer said, “You know what? If there is anything important in the file we keep it. If it is not, we destroy it”.

These two stories are separated by more than 10 years and thousands of miles. Yet they tell very similar tales of rape in conflict and post-conflict situations: stigma, blame and ostracism for the victim; police and military inaction and disregard for rape; lack of access to justice and lack of reparation and redress; and lack of access to support, counselling and healthcare.

Rape is used to humiliate, defeat and emasculate the enemy. It is also used against men with the same rationale of emasculating, humiliating and enforcing defeat.

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