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article imageSex crimes against women seldom punished in times of conflict

By kurtrat     Mar 9, 2007 in World
The plight of victims of sexual abuse during conflict has come to the fore again as the International Criminal Court's Prosecutor last week requested summons for two Sudanese connected with Darfur atrocities.
Louise Arbour, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, writes in the South African newspaper Cape Argus (Cape Town) that there is strong evidence pointing to the suspects' responsibility for mass rape and other war crimes.
Previously, the ICC had issued an arrest warrant for the leader of the Lord Resistance Army, the Ugandan rebel group, on the grounds of war crimes, including sexual enslavement and rape.
The work of courts such as the ICC has highlighted the difficulties in prosecuting perpetrators and countering the culture of impunity that shields their criminal acts. Such impunity permeates all societies, in peace time and in war. However, in times of war, Louise Arbour writes, the effects and consequences of this impunity are at their "starkest."
Although at their most brutal during conflict, "sexual abuses against women often stem from longstanding prejudices, a lack of equality and discrimination that had condoned such violence all along."
Sexual violence has been traditionally underreported and under-prosecuted.
Only recently has the victimization of women by sexual violence during war been addressed by the international community. The International Criminal Tribunals for former Yugoslavis and Rwanda have done groundbreaking work. However, rape as an act of genocide was not successfully prosecuted in former Yugoslavia because the women were too afraid to testify against the Serbian officers who assaulted them. But these tribunals defined systematic violence against women as crimes of genocide.
Although these international courts have become more sophisticated and far-reaching of late, "gender justice continues to remain the exception rather than the rule. Successfully prosecuted cases represent just the tip of the iceberg," according to Arbour. "The crux of the matter in combating impunity is the requisite political will to tackle it. Often slow to gear up into motion, such political will needs to be mobilized through domestic and international pressure as well as continuous scrutiny."
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