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  • Writer's pictureNyayshastram

Sexual Persecution of Women During War Crime - An International Scenario

Updated: Aug 26, 2020

Shrishti Jain, Nyayshastram


As the men leave for war, his responsibility towards his family gets over and towards his country begins. But do only men fight in the war? What about his mother, wife, daughter, and other female relatives? What about the consequences of the combat faced by them? Women used as tools for winning wars is not news of recent times. Evidence shows that women, since time immemorial, are subjected to it. All over the world, they have been reported of brutal rapes, sexual assaults, sexual slavery, and torture committed as an aftermath of a war. The author, through this article, is trying to highlight some of the major issues faced by women during and after the war. It reflects the problems on which international communities decide to be silent upon.

Rape as a tool

During wars, sexual violence has been used as a convenient weapon to win from ancient times. People have accepted rape as a consequence of war as they have accepted war to be part of history. Even during World War II, sexual crimes were “given license, either as an encouragement for soldiers or as an instrument of policy.”[1] Even in Japan, the governments imposed forced prostitution and overlooked the plight of women[2]. As prostitution has normalized rape, it became a reward to the victor.

Amid wars, rape is used as a measure to humiliate the enemy, to weaken his morale, and to force him to flee. Rape is not a random act, but the utter abuse committed in war. Although men are also subject to it, it is evident that women are frequent targets. The combatants’ are encouraged to rape enemy women as it serves their strategic interests[3].

What makes rape a tool?

Rape is just a tool for terrorizing civilians into complying with their attackers’ demands, which shame them and their communities.

As women are the reproducers to society, the enemy soldiers try to impregnate women. So this way, they can destroy the enemy community and win.

In Bosnia, rape was used as a strategy for ethnic cleansing. Women were raped so they could give birth to a Serbian baby. A Bosnian rape victim told Human Rights Watch, “It was their aim to make a baby. They wanted to humiliate us. They would say directly, looking into your eyes, that they wanted to make a baby.”[4]

Similar tactics were used in battle for Bangladeshi independence in 1971, where estimated 200,000 women were raped. The past century offers too many such examples.

Judicial Pronouncement

With the establishment of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in 1993, the international communities became a little more vigilant towards war crimes against women. Till now, more than seventy criminals are charged with the war crimes against women, and 30 individuals have been convicted until 2011.[5]

In its judgments, ICTY clarified the prosecution of sexual violence as a war crime.

In the case of The Prosecutor v. Zejnil Delalic and Zdravko Mucic, Hazim Delic and Esad Landzo, the trial chamber of ICTY recognized rape as a form of torture. And held that “ rape of any person to be a despicable act which strikes at the very core of human dignity and physical integrity.” [6] The judges held that under customary international law, any act of rape may constitute torture. Thus, rape is a grave violation of the Geneva Convention and the Laws and customs of war. In its response, the ICTY Appeals Chamber upheld the findings of the Trial Chamber and sentenced imprisonment to the accused.

The trial in the case of Prosecutor V. Anto Furundžija focuses on the rapes of the Bosnian women during interrogations. He was found guilty as a “co-perpetrator and as an aider and abettor.” The judgment call was upheld on appeal, and he received a sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment. Even the Trial Chamber has shown the concern that “rape may be used as a tool of genocide.”[7]

The Prosecutor v. Dragoljub Kunarac, Radomir Kovač and Zoran Vuković[8]

This judgment widens the scope of the act of enslavement by including sexual enslavement to the International Law. In Bosnia, women were held captive in centres and were raped continuously by Serbian Soldiers. And they were forced to carry Serbs child. At last, women were forced into prostitution and were bought and sold in the open market. The judges were clear that this enslavement is sexual. Thus, the accused received several years of imprisonment.

Effect of war crimes on women

After men, women are the sole members to look after their families and communities. Thus, women’s physical and mental health is important for the survival of her community. The girls and women suffer the most amid conflict because of the Gender- inequality prevalent in society[9]. For example, in 1995, Kabul, 38% of the population suffered from malnutrition, but this figure was much among females as they were treated as secondary citizens. The women of all ages experience displacement, family separation, terrorism, torture, and sexual abuse.

The forced pregnancies due to rape often lead to risky abortions. Pregnant young girls without childbearing experiences face many complications during childbirth, which often leads to lifelong mental and physical trauma. Women carrying children of their aggressors are labelled unfit to marriage. Therefore, rape ruins the life of two individuals.


Women are often targeted during wars through sexual abuse to destroy not only herself but also the communities she belongs to. We cannot wait for a world where “men decide not to rape.”[10]

The women who flew away to protect themselves are often caught in limbo, as they can’t return to their origin and are unable to resettle in other countries. Sufferings of the war victim do not end with the war; rather, they become refugees in their own country. And live with the constant fear of sexual violence and exploitation in refugee camps. It prevents women from participating in peace and democratic processes and thus increasing Gender- inequality. As a tool of war, it can become a way of life.


[1] Theodor Meron, Rape as a Crime Under International Humanitarian Law, Vol. 87, The American Journal of International Humanitarian Law, 424, 425 (1993),, last seen on 29/07/2020. [2] Etsuro Tutsuka, Comment on a victory for “Comfort Women”: Japan’s Judicial Recognition of the Military Sexual Slavery, Vol. 8, Washington Internation Law Journal, 47, 52, (1991),, Last seen on 29/07/2020. [3] U.N. General Assembly, Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against women, Res. 48/104, Sess. 48, U.N. Document A/RES/48/104, last seen on 30/07/2020. [4] Laura Smith-Spark, How did rape become a weapon of war?, BBC News,, last seen 30/07/2020. [5] Landmark cases, United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia,, last seen on 30/07/2020. [6] Prosecutor v. Zdravko Mucic aka "Pavo", Hazim Delic, Esad Landzo aka "Zenga", Zejnil Delalic (Trial Judgement, IT-96-21-T, [International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia(ICTY)]. [7] Prosecutor v. Anto Furundzija (Trial Judgement), IT-95-17/1-T, [International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia(ICTY)]. [8] The Prosecutor v. Dragoljub Kunarac, Radomir Kovač and Zoran Vuković (Trial Judgement), IT-96-23-T,[International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia(ICTY)] [9] U.N. General Assembly, The Fourth World Conference on Women, ple. Meeting 16, 57, (15/09/1995), available at, last seen on 31/07/2020. [10] Susan McKay, The Effects of Armed Conflict on Girls and Women, PEACE AND CONFLICT: JOURNAL OF PEACE PSYCHOLOGY, 381, 384,, last seen on 31/07/2020.

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