This post is a continuation of “Conflict-related sexual violence: what are we talking about? (Part 1),” posted yesterday morning.
III. …and took time to be prosecuted as a crime against humanity and a war crime.
For centuries, CRSV crimes did not preoccupy international tribunals. While sexual violence had been committed during World Wars I and II, impunity for such crimes was considered as normal before the Nuremberg or Tokyo tribunals. Rape was assimilated to bad treatments committed against civilians, and sexual violence in conflict was perceived as a collateral damage. If none of CRSV crimes were prosecuted at that time, it is because these crimes did not exist under international law. Pursuant to the principle of legality, developed by Cesare Beccaria in the 18th century and also known as nullum crimen, nulla poena sine lege, no one can be convicted of a criminal offence in the absence of a clear and precise legal text.
The first major step in the criminalization and recognition of sexual violence in conflict was the four Geneva Conventions of 1949. Common article 3 does not expressly mention rape nor other forms of sexual violence, but bans “violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture,” and “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment.” Article 27 of the Fourth Geneva Convention holds that “women shall be especially protected against any attack on their honor, in particular against rape, enforced prostitution or any form of indecent assault.” In addition, rape is expressly mentioned in article 4§2 of Additional Protocol II of 1977, which states that outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment, rape, enforced prostitution and any form of indecent assault are and shall remain prohibited at any time and any place.
The NGO We ARE Not Weapons of War notes that, in 1992, the issue of the mass rape of women in former Yugoslavia came to the fore at the United Nations Security Council, which declared that the mass, organized, and systematic detention and rape of women, in particular Muslim women, persecuted in Bosnia and Herzegovina constituted “an international crime that was not to be ignored.”
A few years later, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) were the first tribunals whose Statutes explicitly included CRSV crimes. Article 5 of ICTY Statute and Article 3 of ICTR Statute included rape as a crime against humanity, alongside other crimes such as torture and enslavement. In 1998, the ICTR became the first international tribunal to consider the acts of sexual violence as constituting genocide. In its judgment against a former Rwandan mayor, Jean-Paul Akayesu, it considered rape and sexual assault to be acts of genocide insofar as they were committed with intent to destroy a protected group, in whole or in part.