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CATW Statement on Rape as a Weapon of War

“Like torture, rape is used for such purposes as intimidation, degradation, humiliation, discrimination, punishment, control or destruction of a person. Like torture, rape is a violation of personal dignity, and rape in fact constitutes torture when it is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”[1]

The sheer scale of violence against women around the world is unconscionable. Even in times of relative peace, women and girls suffer sexual violence with impunity at the hands of state and non-state actors, creating the social factors and environmental conditions that allow massive sexual crimes to occur when a conflict or war erupts.

Stretching back millennia, state and non-state actors have weaponized sexual violence, rape, and the sexual exploitation of women and girls, as instruments of war and conflict.

In the last hundred years, documented instances of sexual violence began weaving rape as a method of terror and a strategic maneuver to inflict lasting scars on targeted populations. From the “Rapes of Nanking” to the hundreds of thousands of so-called “Comfort Women” trafficked into sexual slavery by the Imperial Army of Japan prior to and until the end of World War II, rape was designed as a deliberate military and paramilitary tactic to subjugate and destroy women and girls, and the communities they are traditionally tasked to sustain.

Rape was used as a method of ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia during the Bosnian war and as a means of genocide in Rwanda, leading international criminal courts to define rape as a weapon of war against civilian populations targeted on national, ethnic, political, racial, or religious grounds.

In 2014, two extremist terrorist organizations, Boko Haram and ISIS – not representative of any religion or culture – abducted, raped, sexually enslaved, and sex trafficked thousands of women and girls in Nigeria and Iraq, respectively, including the targeted Iraqi Yazidis.

Whether by gangs in Haiti or armed fighters in the Sudan; by Iranian security forces against the 2022 “Women Life Freedom” uprising; by Russians soldiers and others in Ukraine, or by Myanmar security forces orchestrating mass rapes of Rohingya women and girls, the common goal of conflict-related rapes and sexual violence is to annihilate women, and by extension the targeted enemy.

On October 7, 2023, conflict-related sexual violence struck again when the terrorist group Hamas and other militants attacked Israel. The evidence shows that these terrorist militants committed widespread and systemic rape and gang rape, of Israeli and other women and girls, many of whose murdered bodies bore signs of mutilation and torture.  An independent, non-governmental commission is investigating war crimes perpetrated by Hamas and other militant terrorist groups of unspeakable crimes of sexual violence against women and children.

We have a collective responsibility to unequivocally condemn these acts of sexual warfare against Israeli and other women and girls, and hold their perpetrators accountable. We call for an independent examination by international human rights investigators of acts of rape, gang rape, and torture perpetrated in the Hamas-Israel conflict and other ongoing wars and conflicts around the world.

A report showed that as of 2022, over 600 million women and girls live in conflict zones, mostly in the Middle East and Northern Africa.  The majority either are survivors of sexual violence, torture, sexual exploitation or are at high risk of suffering from these human rights violations. Women face increased risks of sex trafficking and prostitution as a result of mass displacement and conflict. Elderly women, particularly those with disabilities, also face the highest levels of violence.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women expressed grave concern regarding the reports of sexual violence that occurred on and since October 7 committed by state and non-state actors against Israeli, Palestinian, and other women in the region, and stressed that all such crimes must be thoroughly investigated and those responsible be held accountable.

To end rape as a weapon of conquest and destruction, we must tackle the underlying systems of gender inequalities and cultures of impunity that fuel it. Governments have the resources and laws to prevent and end conflict-related sexual violence; and many states have the legal capacity to prosecute perpetrators even if the rapes occurred beyond their borders.

We urge governments to uphold their commitments under international laws and instruments, including the full implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security, and UN Security Council Resolution 2467, which aims to strengthen justice and accountability in cases of wartime rape.

We must support local women’s rights and human rights organizations working with survivors, who challenge victim blaming and silence, and promote equality and peace.  We demand an end to conflict-related sexual violence – human rights violations that our governments and the world community must never accept as inevitable.

To quote the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict: “We cannot choose the times we live in; we can only choose how we respond…There is no place in the modern world for gender apartheid; for ‘strong men’ in place of strong institutions; or for medieval wars of looting, pillage, and rape. Prevention is the best form of protection…We must rise to the challenge of our times. Inaction is not an option.”





[1] Prosecutor v. Jean-Paul Akayesu, ICTR, Case No. ICTR-96-4-T, Judgment, September 2, 1998 (the Akayesu Trial Chamber Judgment), para. 687



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