by Thomas R. Papeika
Rape, in times of war, is as old as the Bible and
as new as todays headlines on the Kosovar refugee crisis.
From the military laws laid out in Deuteronomy1 to the recent Serbian
threat, victims of rape seem as much a part of a war-zone as bodies
upon the battlefield.
A tragic side effect of ethnic war is the manipulation
of rape figures to advance special interests. Furthermore, to subject
a victimized population to social marketing of coercive
family planning behind a mask of sympathy offers no
real help. Forcing Western notions of family planning
on the Kosovar population merely adds another layer of violence
to these casualties of war.
Rape has been little more than a footnote in the
history of warfare. War historian and cultural analyst Roy Porter
contends that the tragedy of rape generally leaves its stain
on the historical record only if it comes to trial, and the analogy
of todays experience suggests that only a fraction (but how
small a fraction?) ever reached the Tribunal in the past. In cases
which did, the evidence that survives is far from the whole story.2
How callous does it seem, then, that the UNFPA would claim to document
instances of rape by Serbs against the Kosovar women, not for the
sake of the War Crimes Tribunal, but for the sake of justifying
wide distribution of reproductive health supplies to the Kosovars?
(See: PRIs Weekly News Briefing.)
a Tool of Oppression
While rape has always been regarded as an ugly side
effect of warpart of the Homeric booty of killing the men
and taking the women as prizesit is evident that in the modern
age it is increasingly used as a weapon of war and a tool of political
repression over an unwanted population. The spoils of war theory
can not explain Nanking in 1937, where tens of thousands of innocent
Chinese women were systematically raped, forced into prostitution,
and even murdered by the Japanese.2 During ethnic persecutions in
Rwanda in the 1980s and early 90s, rape was used as
a weapon of ethnic cleansing to destroy community ties
between the victims and their families, in short, to break down
unwanted populations. In Haiti in the early 90s,
reports of rape went without investigation, apparently as a part
of the official policy to subjugate the civilian population.3 And
in Indonesia, the government vacillated between condemning rapes
of ethnic Chinese women to claiming that reports of rape were a
The ethnic warfare waged by Serbian forces is no
exception. Lance Morrow notes:
During the Bosnian war, a European Community team
of investigators found that Serbs had committed mass rape as a part
of their expansionist policy of ethnic cleansing.5
Perhaps the editorial which ran in The Christian
Century on the Serbian attrocities repeats this fact more succinctly:
Rape is an integral part of ethnic cleansing.6
To summarize, the United Nations Special Rapporteur
on Violence Against Women stated that rape remains the least
condemned of war crimes; throughout history, the rape of hundreds
of thousands of women and children in all regions of the world has
been a bitter reality.7
The Yugoslavian crisis may mark the turning point
in how the international community responds to war-related rape
cases. Given that rape is a crime directed against population, how
unfortunate it is that the UNFPA would capitalize on the sufferings
of the victims of ethnic persecution in the name of reproductive
health or population control.
Critical analysis of the situation begs the question:
does population control for wartime victims actually help? The distribution
of reproductive health services may be held by many
well-intentioned persons as a fair means of doing something, anything,
to help the victims of rape during ethnic war. But as a disguise
for population control, it would only serve to further oppress a
victimized race of people.
Systematic rape is a brutal crime, borne out of
the complexity of war; and population control programs will do nothing
to make the problem of ethnic hatred go away. Helping victims involves
adopting a well-reasoned, thoughtful, and compassionate approach.
The band-aid approach of population control advocates may make good
PR, but it signifies nothing.
Although weve come a long way in recognizing
war-time rape as the heinous crime it is, it is clear that the UNFPA
has a long way to go in finding ways that will truly help the Kosovar
Thomas R. Papeika is a researcher and journalist from Martinsburg,
1 Cf Deuteronomy 20:1-20.
2 Chang, Iris. The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of
World War II. New York: Basic Books, 1997.
3 UN/OAS International Civilian Mission in Haiti. Report on the
Situation of Democracy and Human Rights in Haiti, A/48/532.
October 25, 1993.
4 Human Rights Watch. Indonesia: The Damaging Debate on Rapes
of Ethnic Chinese Women. http://www.hrw.org/reports98/indonesia3.index.htm.
5 Morrow, Lance. Rape. The Readers Companion
to Military History. Robert Cowley and Geoffrey Parker, Eds.
Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1996.
6 The Christian Century, 110:448-9. April 28, 1993.
7 Preliminary report submitted by the Special Rapporteur on Violence
against Women, its causes and Consequences, Commission on Human
Rights, Fiftieth Session, November 1994, U.N. Document E/CN.41995/42,