Population Research Institute
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Volume 9, Number 4
June /July 1999
War Tactics and Population Control

by Thomas R. Papeika

Rape, in times of war, is as old as the Bible and as new as today’s 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.

A Callous Campaign

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 today’s 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: PRI’s Weekly News Briefing.)

(Continued from Features)

And a Tool of Oppression

While rape has always been regarded as an ugly side effect of war—part of the Homeric booty of killing the men and taking the women as prizes—it 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 1980’s and early 90’s, 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 90’s, 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 fabrication.4

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

Injury Upon Injury

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 we’ve 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 refugees.

Thomas R. Papeika is a researcher and journalist from Martinsburg, West Virginia.


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 Reader’s 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, p.64.

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