Standing up for Canberra

National Security

According to the United Nations, sexual violence in conflict is one of the greatest moral issues of our time. And I agree. It is a moral issue we face now and it has been a moral issue for time immemorial.

Lamentations recounts that 'women have been ravished in Zion, and virgins in the towns of Judah'. Historically, rape was characterised as a private crime, and not a matter of universal human rights. It was considered a crime against a woman's honour, rather than an act of gross physical violence. However, the use of violence as a weapon of war, as an orchestrated, institutionalised, industrialised terror tactic as a combat tool is a more recent phenomenon, and a horrifying and unimaginable one at that.

During the Second World War, the Japanese created 'comfort women'; and the Soviet army is thought to have raped anywhere between one million and two million women in eastern Europe and Germany. But, as always with this despicable crime, who knows what the numbers really were? A 2002 Guardian piece entitled 'They raped every German female from eight to 80' said that one doctor deduced that, out of approximately 100,000 women raped in the city, some 10,000 died as a result of suicide. According to the United Nations, and despite fact that some evidence of sexual atrocities was received by the Nuremberg tribunal, these crimes were not expressly charged. Indictments before the Tokyo tribunal did expressly charge rape and received such evidence, and the Tokyo judgement referred to rape. General Matsui was convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity based in part on evidence of rape. However, none of the women who had been raped were called to testify, and the subject of women's victimisation was only given incidental attention.

Sixty years on, we again heard of horrendous violence against women and children during the conflict in the former Yugoslavia. Estimates of the total number of Bosnian women who were raped range from 10,000 to 50,000, but again it is difficult to provide an exact number. As David Crowe says in his book, War Crimes, Genocide and Justice: A Global History:

What was particularly evil about these crimes was the creation of special "rape camps" where Bosniak women were repeatedly raped and sexually assaulted by Serbian soldiers, and then forced to return pregnant to their families in shame. Part of the reason for this practice was to impregnate Muslim women, thus defiling their cultural, ethnic, and religious heritage.

In June 1996, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia issued its first indictment that dealt exclusively with sexual violence and adopted rules that made it easier for victims to give evidence. The tribunal represented a watershed moment for sexual violence in conflict and now it is a regular aspect of the United Nations' work.

But to date the focus on sexual violence has been on state actors. What we are seeing with Daesh is a non-state actor engaging in some of the most unspeakable acts of sexual violence. What we are seeing is different from other uses of sexual violence in conflict. Women's bodies have become part of the terrain of conflict, according to a new report by Amnesty International. Rape and sexual abuse are not just a by-product of war but are used as a deliberate military strategy. The United Nations last month estimated that Daesh has forced some 1,500 women, teenage girls and boys into sexual slavery. A UN envoy on sexual violence in conflict found that girls from Iraq and Syria were stripped, sold and made to undergo over a dozen virginity reparation surgeries. The intense shame that accompanies these acts is too much for many women to bear, with a number later committing suicide.

As I said earlier, this is the greatest moral issue of our time, as described by the UN's Special Representative to the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Bangura. It requires a multifaceted approach that includes more female peacekeepers, more women in senior positions in peace operations, early warning indicators, promoting accountability and fighting impunity, including by enacting criminal law reforms, ensuring victim reparations and sending all evidence possible to the International Criminal Court. I encourage those participating in the high-level review of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 late this year to consider an appropriate response to this new combat tool by non-state actors—the violation and torture of women and children through rape, prostitution and sexual slavery. There are of course countless reasons to destroy, degrade or terrorism in all its forms. However, for me the use of sexual violence— (Time expired)

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