For Immediate Release
Physicians for Human Rights applauds the UN Security Council's unanimous passage of a resolution declaring rape and sexual violence an unacceptable "war tactic." The Nobel Prize-winning PHR has over two decades of experience investigating and reporting in conflict-affected countries where perpetrators commit rape, as the resolution notes, to "humiliate, dominate, instill fear in, disperse and/or forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic group."
"The Security Council's action acknowledges what PHR has witnessed from Bosnia to Sierra Leone, from Darfur to Kosovo. Widespread and systematic sexual violence in war is as terrifying as guns and bombs," said Susannah Sirkin, PHR's Deputy Director. It shatters bodies and minds, but also devastates families, and communities."
Along with the physical and psychological scars from attacks, rape victims are often rejected by their husbands, who view them as having brought shame to the family, and sometimes these women are stigmatized by their communities. Often, the ongoing conflict prevents women from seeking medical attention. And, in many countries, women have little confidence in or access to broken judicial systems with discriminatory laws that actively impede women from seeking justice.
"In Darfur, for example, women who have come forward charging rape have been countercharged with adultery – for having sex outside of marriage," said Karen Hirschfeld, Director of PHR's Darfur Survival Campaign. "The penalty for adultery there is death by stoning. Despite this threat, women have come forward, desperate for help and still demanding justice."
While women bear the greatest burden, rape impacts any community in which it is used as a weapon of war. PHR investigators learned from Darfurian women that their attackers often raped women in front of family members, or out in the open where people could see.
"The use of rape in this way publicly humiliates the husbands and shames the women – a direct attack on the familial and societal bonds of Darfur's people," added Ms. Hirschfeld, who recently returned from a trip to Chad. "We heard of families who exiled their daughters and of traumatized and terrified mothers who abandoned their newborn babies in latrines because they were conceived through rape."
Last week's Security Council Resolution marks one step towards addressing the severe and lasting consequences of the use of rape during conflict. However, the resolution is non-binding. The will of governments around the world is now required to protect women and girls, to punish those who instigate, support and directly perpetrate this heinous war crime, and to remove this horrific weapon from war's arsenal.
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.