Terrorist groups, armies and rebels worldwide use sexual violence as a means of warfare. As the “Islamic State” continues to rape girls in public and “Boko Haram” abducts women to spread terror, there has been no moment in recent years when action against the use of rape as a weapon of war has been more crucial than now.

In conflicts from Syria to South Sudan to Colombia, sexual violence is employed as a military strategy. Forms of sexual violence include, for example, rape, sexual torture, slavery and forced sterilization.  Like chemical weapons and landmines, it is cheap and effective. Unlike these other weapons, however, its use causes little public outcry, often allowing perpetrators to act with impunity.

Long-lasting trauma

The consequences linger on even when a conflict has ended. Victims suffer from long-lasting psychological trauma and medical conditions. They deserve comprehensive psychological, medical and social care, yet these services are often lacking, are of poor quality or are only available in certain regions. Moreover, soldiers and militia members often continue to perceive rape as a legitimate means after the war. In cases where survivors are unattended to and crimes go unpunished, children learn that sexual violence is the norm.

This cycle of violence must end, though as is often the case, drastic change takes time. It is important, however, to highlight the successes, and focus on where advocacy can make a difference.

The legal framework

In recent years, the legal framework has been developing and awareness about survivors’ rights at the local and international level has been increasing. In March, for the first time in its history, the International Criminal Court (ICC)  handed down a conviction for sexual violence crimes. Jean-Pierre Bemba, a former vice-president of the DRC, was found guilty of rape, both as a crime against humanity and as a war crime. At the national level, a judge in Eastern Congo in August convicted two soldiers for raping two girls aged 10 and 11. In July, a tribunal in Senegal ordered the former Chadian dictator, Hissène Habré, to pay each rape victim under his regime approximately 34,000 dollars.

Holistic healing services

Victim services are also developing, looking for more innovative ways to help victims deal with their trauma. Dr Mukwege, a renowned gynaecologist and international human rights activist, developed a holistic healing model, the so called ‘one-step centre,’ for survivors of sexual violence to access medical, psychosocial, socio-economic and legal services – all in one place. These programmes have benefited more than 40,000 survivors of sexual violence in Congo. The work of the Mukwege Foundation includes, among other goals, the implementation of this program in other regions.

We have a unique opportunity to act on this momentum and accelerate global efforts. By applying a dual strategy of working at the global and the individual and community level, through advocacy and victim support, we believe that the use of rape as a weapon of war can be eliminated  .

Dr. Denis Mukwege

Together with Dr Denis Mukwege, the foundation works with policy makers to develop global strategies to end the use of rape as a weapon of war. With an international team of dedicated experts in DRC, Geneva and The Hague, we aim to both influence global policies and to support programmes in the field which contribute to end the practice.

We would be delighted if you would join us in this critical endeavour and sign up for our newsletter, or follow us on Twitter or  Facebook.


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