| Ander Nieuws week 16 / nieuwe oorlog 2008 |
The walking dead

The Guardian
April 8, 2008
Matthew Harwood
When societies fall victim to war, a woman's body becomes a battlefield, with enemy forces invading it, subduing it, controlling it. The motives can be many and overlapping, as Karin Wachter of the International Rescue Committee told a Senate subcommittee last week:
"As a weapon of war, sexual violence seeks to accomplish a larger objective than the individual act of rape itself. The systematic use of rape in war has many purposes, including ethnic cleansing, elimination, humiliation, or control and domination of target populations - based on their ethnicity, political affiliation, nationality or geographical location - and obviously their gender. ... It is domination through sexualised terror."
Sometimes rapists look to heaven for their incitement to atrocity. As one national Congolese soldier told filmmaker Lisa Jackson, whose documentary The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo premiers tonight on HBO: "We rape because God said that man is superior to woman. The man must command, must give the orders and must do whatever he wants to a woman." Another ghastly reminder that religion continues to provide a rationale for subjugation and exploitation.
Today, under the radar of the mainstream media, the women of the Democratic Republic of the Congo are the latest victims of this tradition of war. Their attackers are various: militias from Uganda and Burundi, Rwandan genocidaires, warlords and thugs, members of their very own police forces and, worst of all, United Nations peacekeepers.
The cruelty of the attacks are not for the squeamish. Women gang-raped, sometimes in public, sometimes in front of their families, even their children. Women penetrated by knives, gun barrels and any other phallic object. Women made sex slaves, passing like cigarettes between their attackers - raped, tortured and discarded.
The aftermath, though, may be worse than the attacks themselves. "Survivors," Wachter said, "are exposed to and suffer from serious and debilitating short- and long-term social and physical and mental heath and economic consequences, including death; severe injuries, fistula, sexually transmitted infections, HIV/Aids and unwanted pregnancy; impaired functions, anxiety, fear, shame, post-traumatic stress, hopelessness and suicide; rejection and stigmatisation by families and communities, extreme isolation and increased economic hardship."
Even the health of the entire society can be jeopardized. When rape becomes endemic in war, said Dr Denis Mukwege, director of a hospital in the DRC, "the men become useless, because they cannot reproduce children with sick women or women whose genital apparatus are destroyed."
Women experiencing such trauma "become the walking dead," according to Jackson.
The testimony acknowledged that the United States has been an active proponent of maintaining rape in warfare as an international war crime and a "driving force" in the creation, support and funding of war crimes tribunals to hold offenders accountable.
For all the good the United States has accomplished in fashioning norms against rape as a weapon of war and creating the legal mechanisms for accountability, however, Iraq has tested its ability to keep its own house in order.
When the US invaded and occupied Iraq, one of the stated rationales was to put an end to a regime predicated on systematic state terrorism. One tactic regularly employed by Saddam Hussein to terrorise Iraqis was rape. As President Bush said six months after Baghdad fell to American forces: "Iraq is free of rape rooms and torture chambers." It's a remark we now unfortunately know to be untrue because of Abu Ghraib and other reports (here, here and here) of American soldiers raping Iraqi women and girls.
Whatever the true motivations were for the Iraq invasion, many soldiers believed the lofty rhetoric of the administration and thought they were putting an end to a sadistic regime that repressed its people and jeopardised international security. The tragic irony, however, is that female US soldiers and contractors have fallen prey, not to remnants of the old regime or the many insurgent groups or militias that roam Iraq, but to their own male comrades-in-arms.
Guardian News and Media Limited 2008
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| Ander Nieuws week 16 / nieuwe oorlog 2008 |