Throughout history, belligerent parties have been using rape as a tool to punish, terrorize and destroy populations. In some cases, armies, rebel groups and terrorist organisations employ sexual violence as a strategy to pursue their objectives. In other cases, commanders allow their soldiers to rape women and girls as a form of reward.Sexual violence during wartime is often committed in public and by several attackers. It includes gang rape and attacks with objects and weapons, which are inserted in the victims’ vagina or anus. Conflict-related sexual violence takes different forms, such as sexual slavery, forced prostitution, and sexual torture.
Wartime rape affects both men and women. Men can be victims, and women can be perpetrators.
Under international law, conflict-related sexual violence are characterised as war crimes and crimes against humanity. When it is committed with the intend to destroy a population, such as during the Rwandan genocide in 1994, systematic sexual violence can amount to genocide.
The consequences go far beyond individual suffering. Sexual violence committed across entire communities spreads diseases, destroys family ties and inflicts harm over generations. Moreover, sexual violence as a tactic of war reinforces gender inequalities and normalises sexual violence, even after a conflict has ended.
Dr Denis Mukwege is a world-renowned gynaecologist and human rights activist from east DRC. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for his global efforts to end the use of rape as a weapon of war. Dr Mukwege founded Panzi Hospital and Foundation, and has become one of the world’s leading specialists on treating survivors of wartime sexual violence.More about Dr Denis Mukwege