Rules and Principles Which Apply to Sexual Violence as a Weapon of War

Sexual violence is a major contemporary issue in an emerging armed conflict in society. The physical and psychological effects of sexual violence create an increased push towards the prevention of the vice. Women and young girls are the most vulnerable victims of these crimes, which call for more prevention efforts. Many organizations and networks have emerged to address this problem and reduce the impunity. The networks provide some information for factual prosecution, while activists lobby for better human rights policies. Focusing on building the capacities of these organizations will foster a better realization of goals. The paper identifies and investigates the roles played by international regimes in curbing conflict based sexual violence. Further, it provides an overview of the legal precedence in dealing with this form of crimes. In addition, an analysis of efficiency of regimes is provided with considerations on how to enhance their capacity.

Sexual violence as a weapon of war can be traced back to the ancient Roman Empire where it was used as a means of dominance and instilling submission. Rape, which is a form of sexual violence, has been widely used to achieve strategic war objectives. In the Rwandan genocide, mass rape based on ethnicity was applied to subdue the Tutsi’s. Further, in former Yugoslavia, systematic rape and other sex related atrocities were imposed on the victims of the conflict. Despite the blatant psychological, physical, and healthcare impacts, sexual violence still remains a major problem for the countries across the globe. The collection of evidence for prosecution remains a major challenge. The International Red Cross indicates that 30 cases of sexual violence remain unreported for every one that is revealed. As a result, many perpetrators are not prosecuted hence promoting impunity. The paper looks into sexual violence as a weapon of war and provides some insights of the efforts made by international regimes to curb it. In addition, it evaluates the capacities of these governments in fighting sexual violence.

The Geneva 4 Conventions (1949) has made a significant stride in the fight against sexual violence. It was also improved by the additional protocols imposed in 1977. The article 27 of the convention provided for protection of women’s honor especially against rape and forced prostitution of other indecent attacks (Stahn 39). It is further articulated in the article 76 of the 1st addendum article of 1977. It provides that women shall be esteemed as special respect objects. In addition, they should be protected from enforced prostitution, rape and other forms indecent attacks.

In May 1993, the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was formed. The tribunal had been charged with the responsibility of prosecuting atrocities undertaken against Muslim and Croatian communities between the 1992-1995 armed conflicts. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) created in 1994 set precedence for the legally addressing rape and sexual violence. The ICTY and ICTR had played a major role in defining sexual violence as a weapon of war (William 74) while further establishing its link to genocide and humanity crimes instigated by a widespread systematic attack of civilian populations (William, 63). In addition, some articles of the ICTR and ICTY were incorporated in the Rome statute due to the success of the prosecutions.

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The International Criminal Court (ICC) is the first ever referral court for prosecuting perpetrators of crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide, and crimes of aggression (William 74). It takes over some cases when a local judicial system is incapable of handling them within their capacity. The Rome Statute which was enforced on July 2002 under the ICC provides for the prosecution of sexual violence and war crimes. The statute under the articles number 6, 7 and 8 categorizes sexual violence against women as an act of genocide, war crime and crimes against humanity (William 74).

The Global Human Rights Regime

The international human rights regime is fundamentally anchored on the establishment of the United Nations in 1945. Through the UN Charter , the concerted effort has been made in the fight for universal human rights (Julie 37). The regime presents an impetus to creation of institutions to curb human rights’ violations. Further, through working with global networks it fosters awareness of human rights universally. In addition, the development of legal structures and treaties to enhance accountability for violators has been achieved. The established International Criminal Court by the Rome statute provides a prosecution mechanism for human rights’ violations. Further, the regulation of legal precedence in international relations is founded.

International Organization Associated Sexual Violence

United Nations Action against Sexual Violence in Conflict. It is an international institution existing within the United Nation system. It has been created with the sole focus of unifying the thirteen united nation bodies in the fight and ending of conflict based sexual violence (Julie 37). The organization is responsible for advocacy for the actions against sexual violence during some crimes in society. It was founded based on the evaluation of the effects of sexual violence on peace, maintenance of security, and post conflict development. The organization advocates for the recognition of the autonomy of conflict based sexual violence from the conflict itself.

It is focused on ending impunity in communities through strengthening the judicial capacities and authorities in dealing with conflict based sexual violence. In addition, they promote the engagement of governments in facilitating political ownership of the problem and resolution. Vulnerable victims of sexual violence especially women and children are also protected and empowered under their programs (Goodman 149).

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The organization operates in the countries with current or historical prevalence of sexual violence which include: the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, Colombia, the Central African Republic, Sudan and South Sudan, Bosnia, and Herzegovina. It offers an opportunity for involvement through the UN Stop Rape Now campaign (Goodman 149). It is aimed at facilitating the realizations of human rights by advocating and lobbying against sexual violence against women. The funding of its activities is based on the United Nations budgetary allocation and grants.

International Networks Associated with Sexual Violence

Amnesty International (AI). It was formed in 1961 by Peter Benenson to advocate for the freedom of expression for Portuguese students. Amnesty International is an organization that focuses on provision of facts and useful information with regard to violence and abuse when they occur (Amnesty International). It operates on three main tenets; research, advocacy and lobbying, as well as campaigns and actions. The research presents factual information which is a basis for advocacy and lobbying (Hopgood 204). It is undertaken through media, government and private sector companies to promote justice. Campaigns and actions then are developed through protests, campaigning and petitions to institute a change. The organization has exposed many sexual violence cases globally including; Sierra Leone, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Rwanda among other. It calls for the end of impunity for war crimes in conflict and crimes against humanity. Crimes against humanity include systematic rape which is a form of sexual violence in conflict (Amnesty International Report 56).

The organization has grown over the years and now has presence in many parts of the world. In addition to being present in over 70 countries the opening regional offices in Asia, Europe, South America, Middle East and Africa is a milestone for the organization (Girot 103). The Amnesty International offers some opportunities for individuals in society to engage and participate in the organization’s activities. Through volunteer programs throughout their global offices individuals are encouraged to commit themselves in a part time basis for six months (Amnesty International Report 56).

Human Rights Watch (HRW)

The Human Rights Watch is a global non-profit organization that operates with a staff base of around 400 people globally. It was created in 1978 and includes a league of professionals (Brody 135). They range from lawyers, academic, experts, and journalists from different countries. It partners with human rights’ organizations in the research, advocacy and unbiased reporting through strategic use of media. The organization reports annually on the human right issue in different parts of the world including over 90 countries (Brody 135). This information forms a basis for lobbying governments and international bodies, e.g., the AU, the EU, and financial institution in creating a policy change. It is the organization’s approach of calling for respect and compliance to human rights (Brody 135). They investigate and bring into light the facts on atrocities and build pressure on the power in society to respect human rights and uphold justice.

The organization offers internship opportunities throughout its offices in the world. These possibilities can be accessed through applications to the local offices and attachment to the appropriate department of interest (Brody 156). The programs offer exposure to Human Rights Watch job environment under supervision. They include attending seminars, trainings, interaction with local and international officials. Internships are usually unpaid. In addition, they offer some opportunities for employment of experts to contribute to their existing competent personnel.

Strength of International Regime and Networks

International regimes imply the international rules and processes. They sometimes can be used to mean the organizations between governments. They only facilitate the existence of regimes but are not fundamentally the main actors. Essentially, they are formed to address and coordinate a positive action towards an issue among countries. The International Criminal Court (ICC) under the Rome Statute of 2002 was given its legal jurisdiction to prosecute crimes against humanity (Stahn 47). Further, it tries genocide and war crimes internationally. This intergovernmental and international regime enjoys membership of 124 countries globally.

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In the global membership of the ICC, super power nations are not signatories or have not ratified their membership (Stahn 47). This presents a challenge in the fight against sexual violence in these states. Some of the non-ratified member countries with more influence include; the United States, China, and Russia. However, the membership of the ICC largely represents the states that have been mostly affected by sexual violence. As a result, deliberate efforts are made in the prevention and prosecution of conflict-based sexual violence.

Through the office of the prosecutor, the regime has been able to prosecute thirty-nine prominent individuals. It includes leaders in Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, Libya, and the Ivory Coast among others. Despite this prosecution, very few leaders have been proven culpable and incarcerated. More critics have recently been focused on the bias of the court in dealing with the African states. It has been depicted by the move by the African Union (AU) encouraging Kenya to withdraw its membership from the Rome Statute (Mueller 31). The poor implementation of investigation of crimes against humanity has also led to the premature dismissal of cases. In the case of Kenya, some suggestions of evidence regarding witness bribery and coached have led to the collapse of most cases.

According to (Slomanson 351), the researcher distinguishes between law making treaties and contractual agreements. Law making treaties institute a new international law while the contractual ones only ensure compliance to an agreement. In this concept of self-effecting treaties, they are law making agreements that are binding upon ratification of membership. It is the approach adopted by the ICC where only member states are prosecuted upon signatory to the Rome Statute. It implies that the international law does not just indicate what is to be done but provides a mechanism of execution (Dodge).The United Nations plays a vital role in the support and efficiency of the judicial mechanism of the International Criminal Court.

Trends in the International Regime

The ICC has successfully prosecuted sexual and gender based violence over the years. The number of confirmed accusations of perpetrator in the pre-trial chamber has increased to 62.8% (2014) from 50% (2013). Those ones confirmed in the trial phase are 27 out of the 43 brought forth by the court prosecutor (Stahn 43). 16% of the accused perpetrators have been convicted for sexual violence crimes. It is despite the crime against humanity and genocide accusations made.

Poor reporting of sexual violence instances is a major setback in the case of prosecution in the ICC. It results in a limited accessibility to key evidence and building of cases in the pre-trial chamber (Lamont 121). The societal labeling and victimization of sexual violence victims is an impetus for the non-reporting. Further, the existing local and national institutions have invested little in support of sexual violence fight and prevention. Most member states have low capacity and inability to investigate sexual violence cases. As a result, the development of case evidence ends up prematurely dismissed fostering impunity.

In dealing with prosecution of perpetrators of sexual violence the court is challenged in establishing a link to the actual acts of violence. The objective approach of the court in prosecuting those deemed most responsible presents a challenge in evidence collection (Heineman 73). To establishing a direct correlation of the sexual violence committed by soldiers to the alleged perpetrator is usually a major stumbling block. Despite these threats, the International Criminal Court has learned heavily from the ICTR and ICTY tribunals. They were instrumental in providing legal precedence to prosecute sexual violence.

Regime Enforcement Mechanism

The International Criminal Court provides for mechanisms to prosecute, compensate, and protect the rights of victims of sexual violence. The ICC has a prerogative of determining the damages imposed by sexual violence and providing for reparations respectively (Lamont 29). This enforcement mechanism promotes the compensation and equality of all in the eyes of the law. Further it restores trust in the court system among the victims of sexual violence.

Issuance of summons and arrest warrants is imposed on non-complaint alleged perpetrators in the prosecution process. Further, upon conviction, the perpetrators are incarcerated in the existing ICC imprisonment systems (Edwards 92). This process usually involves bargaining and negotiating between the courts and the national governments. Cooperation fosters efficiency in the realization of justice for victims. In addition, the ICC provides witness protection for the case witnesses. Based on the nature of the matter and accusation, the lives of witnesses may be in danger. As result, during the court proceedings timeline, they are accorded special protection by the court (Edwards 92).

Change in the International Regime

The institution of changes in the International Criminal Court can be undertaken through amendments of the Rome Statute. They can be proposed by any member state to it. Upon approval by two thirds of the member state assembly the update can be enforced a year after ratification by seven-eighths of the member states (William 63). Changes regarding institutional matters take effect after six months upon approval by two thirds of the member state assembly. It may include, for example, the proposed vote on the use of recanted evidence in Kenya ICC pre-trial proceedings.

The changes made by the International Criminal Court should focus on complementarity. According to (Burke-White 55), the concept advocates on the involvement of the court in building local judicial systems. It enhances the legitimacy of the court among member states. It is a proactive approach in curbing the development of sexual violence offense before they escalate. Also, engaging leaders in the onset of conflict will substantially promote prevalence of sexual violence (Goodman 152). Further, it develops the capacity of the member states to deal with the prosecution of sexual violence. In addition, the court should postulate itself as only a court of last resolve.

Assessment of the International Regime Relevance

In my point of view, the human rights regime is an important system in the advocacy for justice for the victims of sexual violence. Throughout the globe, rape and sexual violence has been used as a tool for achieving strategic war objectives. The creation of the ICC as a means to hold the perpetrators of the violence culpable is a major achievement of the regime. The integration of findings and the resolution of the ICTR and ICTY tribunals has promoted a definitive understanding of rape and sexual violence in a conflict (Edwards 92). I believe that the role undertaken by the ICC and the ad hoc war tribunals in Rwanda and Yugoslavia greatly shape the contemporary modern warfare. It is evidenced through the promotion of international accountability on crimes committed during conflicts.

In contrast to the international trade regime, the global human rights regime experiences a number of common challenges in executing its roles. Membership ratification by the members based on perceived infringement on sovereignty is a major stumbling block. In addition, compliance to the obligation to cooperate in enforcing sanctions or arrest warrants limits regime’s legitimacy (Slomanson 356). Most member countries do not appreciate the legitimacy of these international regimes.

In international relations, the court plays a central role in maintaining the values of human rights and justice. Through the prosecution of war crimes and the ones against humanity and genocide, the cases of impunity are reduced globally. In addition, provision of the legal policy under which nations can devise a sexual violence framework for intergovernmental relations decrease such matters as well (Stahn 45). The collective unity and actions in fighting the conflict based sexual violence has been augmented by the ICC. Member countries are required to assist the court in the process of prosecution and incarceration of perpetrators. It is essential in the engagement of the international community in ending sexual violence in conflicts. In the near future, more collaborations and networking through the treaties on the ICC’s international jurisdiction will be a dominant theme. The scope of the international body may pervasively move to strengthening local judicial systems within signatory states.


Sexual violence in a conflict stills remains a major challenge in the 21st century despite the concerted efforts to curb its effects. The ICC, for instance, has built on the ICTR and ICTY in developing a mechanism to fight the conflict based sexual violence. In addition, networks have exploited advocacy and lobbying on financial institutions, governments and international bodies. It has served to instill pressure for a policy change and a deliberate commitment in ending the conflict sexual violence.

Regimes play a crucial role in international relations and development of appropriate policy. The United Nations actions against Sexual Violence in Conflict, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have made a substantial progress ending sexual violence in the conflict. As a result, it builds a greater awareness and advocacy for sexual violence victims and incidences globally. Therefore, deliberate efforts should be imposed on improving the legal and bureaucratic systems of the international regimes.

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