War crimes

  • Laws and the values they contain

The recent awarding of Nobel Peace Prize to Congolese doctor Denis Mukwege and Yazidi campaigner Nadia Murad has shed light on the increasing use of sexual assault against women as a weapon in armed conflict. Murad is a survivor of IS-led oppression against women and Mukwege has treated tens of thousands of victims of rape at Panzi Hospital which he founded in 1999 in South Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo. The services of both have opened dialogue on the need to protecting those not directly involved in conflict.

Such war crimes have been around for as long as men have waged war against one another. However, with the limited and prolonged conflict shaping regional geo-politics, the outpouring nature of this is a global concern that begs the revisioning of the existing international law regime. The law for this has been mandated under the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution 1888, introduced during 2009 which has over the years this has assisted governments with criminal investigation and prosecution, military justice, legislative reform, protection of victims and witnesses and reparations. Various other resolutions such as 1820 and 1960 have allowed governments draw their health plans for victims, hold perpetrators accountable, identify and release those vulnerable to sexual violence from their ranks and ensure implementation of these laws.

The presence of these comprehensive laws and formulation seems overwhelming, but the recurring nature of this violence suggests otherwise. The United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres has identified, as have many before him, that those committed to the service of the vulnerable are in fact the perpetrators of it in some cases as well. The human desire to dominate is intrinsically so strong and utterly weak in the face of anarchy that it can easily be corrupted by the egregious nature of the conflicts. It is because of this that international law, no matter how comprehensive, loses its practicability, even when an extensive framework exists. It is this ingrained corruption of the practitioners that has fouled all attempts at sustainable armistice and left all policy formulations as mere inane laws.

When most conflicts break out, the UN first takes its fair share of time to acknowledge it, and whether or not it warrants a direct involvement. It then decides the manner in which it will proceed; typically, not being a direct part of it, but merely facilitating the peace process and rehabilitating those who make it to the negotiated-peace camps. The fact that it took the UN the Rwandan Genocide and Srebrenica massacre, and an additional decade to incorporate the responsibility to protect under its humanitarian intervention doctrine says a lot about the administrative delays that continuously thwart the peace process. And this too isn’t without its digressions.

With conflicts promulgating in each corner of the world, there is growing evidence that the impending refugee crisis will exhaust world resources

Coming back to the law, inherently, it is insufficient to encapsulate all facets of the crises and understand its contextual depth. It, therefore, lacks conflict-specific framework. The origin of every conflict is unique, and so are the magnitude of atrocities committed. However, amidst all this, women, children and old remain amongst the most vulnerable of the masses. Terrorising the more vulnerable using weapons such as sexual assault, during engineered chaos has emerged as an effective tool of intimidation, thereby engendering a war monopoly of sorts whereby the victims are used as currency for payment to the fighters and/or sold for sex trafficking and slavery or held for ransom to raise capital.

In lawless lands where puppet governments match force with force to exert their influence, and weapons fall short, the fighters and warlords unleash the most heinous war tactics of sexual intimidation. Globally, rape survivors are shunned as a taboo and in most societies where such conflicts persist, the Global South, there is very less acceptance. The children conceived through rape are considered ‘children of the enemy’ and face a lifetime of marginalisation because of stigma and uncertain legal status. This distorts the DNA of the thriving communities of conflict, and becomes a constant traumatic reminder. According to Mukwege it takes about two generations for a community to outgrow this distress. The large number of Rohingya women suffering at refugee camps is a peephole into what lays ahead for them in their communities if the world doesn’t take concrete steps now.

Perhaps the grossest of these is the sexual violence used against children. In countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, cases of sexual assault against children is mind numbing. In war-torn communities, children are denied their chance of being children and are forced to earn for a living, which makes them even more vulnerable to assault and also being the next generation fighters. This remorseless cycle for survival keeps repeating itself, because of which ending conflicts in this age seems more inconceivable than ever.

But this doesn’t mean that we stop here. With conflicts promulgating in each corner of the world, there is growing evidence that the impending refugee crisis will exhaust world resources and as with scarce economic resources, strategies for rehabilitation also get slim, the world will have to think beyond the existing United Nations Security Council resolutions, to protect all those who aren’t directly involved in the conflict. The practitioners of these international laws should be reminded of their duties and it should be acknowledged that the strength of these words lies in the numbers. The number of states who endorse these laws and uphold the values contained in them.