War in Ukraine: Why is rape a weapon of war?

Here, in Butch, where massacres of civilians were committed. (© OLEG PETRASYUK/EPA/MaxPPP)

Bucha, Kherson, Hostomel, Irben…. These cities resonate today as the scene of atrocities against Ukrainian civilians. from massacres First, like Bucha Where hundreds of bodies were found, but also rape.

While it is difficult to document and identify these crimes, it is clear that Testimonies of rape victims multiply.

In a report dated April 3, the NGO Human Rights Watch reported the story of a 31-year-old woman who says she was repeatedly raped by a Russian soldier at a school in the Kharkiv region.

The soldier took her to a classroom, where he pointed his gun at her and asked her to undress. She said: Point the gun at my temple or point it at my face. Twice he shot the ceiling and said that would give me more “motivation”. He raped her, then told her to sit on a chair… He raped her again, put a knife in her throat and cut the skin of her neck. Photographs reviewed by Human Rights Watch, dated March 19 and 20, show cut marks and bruises on her neck and face.

Human Rights Watch

This scary tale is not isolated.

They raped girls and women

The evidence is this other testimony: the testimony of a Ukrainian psychiatrist who collected rape victims. The soldiers were checking who lived in the houses. Then they return in the evening, kill any man in the house, and plunder the money and valuables. They ate and drank what they found, and when they got drunk they raped the girls and women. Even in the presence of childrenSays Figaro.

France Press agency For her part, she collected the testimony of a Ukrainian rape victim.

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In March, before the world learned about Bucha’s horror, a conversation was captured on Telegram between a Russian soldier and his mother. This mentions:

In a nearby village, boys raped an adult woman and a 16-year-old girl.

Russian soldier

As shocking as they are, these stories of rape in Ukraine are a reminder that these crimes were always committed during conflict. Each of them was used as a weapon whose goal would not only be destruction, but also Humiliation, ethnic cleansing and propaganda.

Humiliate the other

“Rape in times of war is almost systemic. We have seen it everywhere and on all continents. Just like sexual exploitation,” notes B. d’actu.fr Françoise Duroche, Head of the Reflection Unit at MSF in Switzerland. “As if it was a woman [victime majoritaire des viols, Ndlr] It was spoils of war. »

Rape has always been considered one of the constituent elements of war, soldiers seize land, and then women.

Françoise DurocheDoctors without borders

This “grabbing of power” by rape can also mask the desire to humiliate and discredit the enemy. In the past, when rape was committed in wartime, people would talk about dishonoring a family or nation, long before the victim was even thought of.

example with Nanjing massacre, in 1937 during the Sino-Japanese War where children were raped, sometimes in front of their families, young girls were forced into prostitution, and fathers were forced to rape their daughters. Goal : defile an entire people.

“Ethnic cleansing”

During conflicts, rape can also be used in “the logic of ethnic cleansing,” as the expert notes, “this was the case during the war in the former Yugoslavia where rapes were organized on a large scale.”

At that time – in the 1990s – Serbs were attacking Muslim villages and rape of Muslim women was common.

Even worse, “they were committed on the orders and under the supervision of the higher authorities, so that they were used as a weapon of war to force the population to leave their homes, and it is clear that they fell under an expansionist strategy.”, in a 1994 UNESCO Working Group.

from rape camps Even in Foca (in southeastern Bosnia and Herzegovina) where Serb soldiers can come and go and take women and young girls “who they raped, tortured and then humiliated as severely as possible,” reports an article in The Hague Judicial Journal.

This is always from the perspective of “ethnic cleansing” led by Serbian forces. In other words, it leads to a certain homogeneity of the population.

It should be noted that not all rapes committed in the former Yugoslavia were committed within this logic of ethnic cleansing because “many men were victims of sexual abuse”.

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In other respects, Rape can be used for propaganda purposes. As if to indicate to the population what they risk to bear.

The gradation surrounding rape can sometimes give an indication of a military objective: to humiliate a community in the case of publicly committed attacks or to destroy social and family ties.

Françoise Duroche

It is also a way to scare people away to take over their land.

The open wounds of the victims

let it follow military order Or whether it is an individual act out of political or religious convictionrape takes, in time of war, features a Weapon of mass destruction The physical and psychological damage is very great.

“Rape does not stop when hostilities have ended. There are wounds left,” explains Françoise Duroch. Especially when a child is born as a result of forced sex: these new mothers can be ostracized from society.

In some cases, and to get out of it, they engage in prostitution. endless circle.

A war crime?

Sexual crimes, including rape, committed in times of war are described by the International Criminal Court as “War crimes, crimes against humanity and even genocide” When committed “with intent to destroy all or part of a national, ethnic, racial or religious group”.

Alleged rapes in Ukraine are currently a topic Several investigations are open By the International Criminal Court as well as by the Prosecutor General of Ukraine. Because it would be appropriate to characterize or not, these rapes are war crimes.

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