Patrick Henry: Review of "Rape: Weapon of War and Genocide," edited by John K. Roth and Carol Rittner


Patrick Henry is Cushing Eells Emeritus Professor of Philosophy and Literature at Whitman College in Walla Walla, WA. His recent book, We Only Know Men: The Rescue of Jews in France during the Holocaust (Catholic University of America Press, 2007) appeared in French as La montagne des justes (Editions Privat, 2010). He is the editor of the forthcoming Jewish Resistance to the Nazis (Catholic University of America Press, 2013).

Rape: Weapon of War and Genocide is not easy reading. As the various authors analyze rape as a weapon of war and genocide in numerous regions throughout the world, the amount of suffering becomes incalculable and unimaginable. Rape is everywhere depicted as torture which destroys the individual, demolishes one’s “trust in the world” and thereby shatters the community as well. A thirty-page detailed chronology (1937-2011) of war and rape from Nanking to Sierra Leone and Libya accompanies the thirteen chapters of the book, each one of which combines documents and essays, is oriented around a text (document, trial transcript, or victim’s account), and offers suggestions for further reading and questions for discussion.

After co-editor Carol Rittner’s comprehensive overview (she is a Roman Catholic nun and Distinguished Professor of Holocaust & Genocide Studies at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey), ironically entitled “Are Women Human?” Eva Fogelman and Dagmar Herzog, relying on survivor testimony, study rape during the Holocaust. Fogelman sees the rape of women by the Nazis as a form of terrorism but not intentionally or systematically a weapon of genocide or ethnic cleansing. Interestingly, Fogelman spends time on “entitlement rape” practiced by Nazis as well as liberators and concludes that rape during the Holocaust was much more widespread than normally understood. Herzog analyzes “rape as punishment” handed out to male homosexuals in German concentration camps. She points out that between 10,000 and 15,000 male homosexuals were sent to concentration camps for same-sex activities which would remain criminal offenses in West Germany and Austria until 1969 and 1971 respectively.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia estimates that during the Bosnian War (1992-1995) Serb, Croatian, and Bosnian soldiers raped between 20,000 and 50,000 mostly Muslim women and girls. Using survivor testimony and a trial transcript, Christina M. Morus and Tazreena Sajjad relate these horrors where rape is clearly a weapon of genocide. They stress too that many of these rapes took place in “rape camps” where women were held captive and raped repeatedly.

Jessica A. Hubbard reports on the 100-day period from April 6 to July 16, 1994 in Rwanda when the Hutu-led genocide took the lives of between 800,000 and 1,000,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. During that time, between 250,000 and 500,000 women and girls were raped, approximately 70% of whom were thereby infected with HIV and AIDS. As in Bosnia, rape was the rule, not the exception, and it was central to the genocide. Carl Wilkens, an aid worker with the Adventist Church who was the only American to remain in Rwanda throughout the catastrophe, adds his thoughtful reflections about helping others during the genocide. James E. Waller begins by speaking about the situation in Rwanda but, in “Rape as a Tool of ‘Othering’ in Genocide,” shows, more generally, how in genocidal situations the common ground between perpetrators and victims is deliberately obliterated by systematic “us-them” thinking, moral disengagement, dehumanizing and then, finally, blaming the victims. Here and elsewhere, as Waller concludes, “it is safer to be a soldier than a woman.”

The picture remains bleak as the scene shifts to Guatemala and the Congo. Roselyn Costantino analyzes the rape campaign in Guatemala, primarily from 1960-1996, when tens of thousands of mostly Maya women were tortured, raped, and murdered “as state-sanctioned political acts.” Costantino elucidates the phenomenon of femicide and explains the “profound and traumatic shame and guilt” created by sexual violation in Hispanic Roman Catholic and Maya cultures. Lee Ann De Reus reports on rape as a weapon of war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a failed state and one of the poorest countries in the world, where the United Nations estimates that “at least 200,000 women and girls have been raped” since hostilities began in 1996. De Reus paints the terrible picture of the abandonment of the victims of rape by their husbands, families and villages, leaving them alone to deal with their trauma. In 2009, Human Rights Watch labeled the DRC “the worst place in the world to be a woman.”

Today, across the globe, rape is intentionally and systematically used as a weapon of war and genocide, a deliberate policy that attempts to violate, dehumanize, contaminate, and render useless the “property” of others. Many of our authors, however, stress that some progress has been made in combating this gruesome situation. Although late, it is nonetheless significant that international law now accepts the fact that rape can be a genocidal weapon for which individuals are responsible. The key came in the 1996-1998 case against Jean-Paul Akayesu, the Hutu mayor in Rwanda found guilty of committing genocide and using rape to do so. Also, in 2001, three Bosnian Serb leaders were found guilty of war rape, now deemed, along with sexual torture and enslavement, crimes against humanity, and in 2008 in Guatemala, a Law Against Femicide and Other Forms of Violence Against Women was passed. These are important developments but much more needs to be done to enforce such laws and to destroy the mindset that makes systematic rape possible. For one, as Julie Kuhlken insists, by citing repeatedly the 2007 “Report of the United Nations’ Secretary-General on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict” (United Nations/2007/643), the UN must enforce its own principles established to protect civilians during wartime.

Word must be spread about this horrific situation. The authors who have contributed to Rape: Weapon of War and Genocide are doing just that, as are the recent films discussed in Paul R. Bartrap’s informative contribution (Black Sun, A Woman in Berlin, Vukovar, Savior, A Sunday in Kigali, and Calling the Ghosts), and journalists, such as Nicholas D. Kristof of the New York Times (cited by co-editor John K. Roth, Edward J. Sexton Professor Emeritus of Philosophy and the Founding Director of the Center for Human Rights Leadership at Claremont McKenna College) who has often decried the desperate situation in the Congo. Voice must be given to the victims and solidarity established with them. The internet can inform millions, help to lobby officials, and spur appropriate legislation. All efforts must be made to enhance women’s public presence worldwide, to empower women globally, to create gender equality and improve women’s peacetime status so as to preclude the “us-them” thinking that has ruled during wartime. Individual states, the UN, and the international community must assume responsibility for this tragic worldwide condition. Nothing, perhaps, could be greater, in these war-torn areas, than waging a full-time campaign for peace.

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