Sweet: Durbin chairs first congressional hearing on rape as a weapon of war

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WASHINGTON--Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) chaired a Wednesday hearing on sexual violence and using rape as a weapon of war.

Durbin release......

April 1, 2008


[WASHINGTON, DC] – United States Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) chaired a hearing today examining the widespread use of rape as a weapon of war, legal options for holding perpetrators accountable and the role the United States plays in preventing and prosecuting this horrific crime.

"Mass rape in war is frequently not the random act of individual soldiers, but a determined strategy to destroy populations," Durbin said. “The perpetrators are not held accountable and turn to mass rape because it is cheaper than using bullets."

A recent report documented conflict-related sexual violence in more than 50 countries, covering nearly every corner of the world. In many of these conflicts, rape is used systemically and deliberately to humiliate, demoralize and destroy civilian populations. In addition to being raped, woman and girls are tortured, mutilated and forcibly impregnated to change the ethnic make up of groups. Widespread rape was reported during the Rwandan genocide in the early 1990’s, the civil war in Sierra Leone and the Bosnia conflict, and has also been reported in the Darfur region of Sudan.

Also discussed at today’s hearing were legal options for holding accountable those who use rape as a military tactic. Despite mass rape’s classification as a crime against humanity in international law, loopholes in US law make it nearly impossible for the government to prosecute those found in the US who may have committed rape in conflicts overseas. Because of this, the United States may be an unwitting safe haven for war criminals.

“I’m sorry to say that if a foreign warlord who engaged in mass rape found his way to the US today, he’d likely be beyond the reach of our laws,” Durbin said. “That is shameful. If we fail to close these loopholes, we will allow these crimes to continue with impunity.”

Dr. Denis Mukwege, a doctor in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and a witness at today’s hearing, discussed the use of rape as a weapon of war and the experiences of the victims he treats at the hospital he runs in the city of Bukavu.

“On average, my hospital sees 10 new victims of rape a day,” Dr. Mukwege said. “This type of sexual terrorism is done in a methodical manner by armed groups. The rapists are not seeking to satisfy some kind of sexual desire, but to destroy the woman, destroy her family and destroy her community.”

Lisa F. Jackson, an Emmy award winning filmmaker and director of the documentary “The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo,” testified about the lack of attention cases of sexual violence receive globally.

“Why has the world been so silent? Why in the last ten years, has there been only ONE front-page story in the New York Times about the epidemic of sexual violence that is devastating the Congo? Why is it that rape in conflict is so infrequently prosecuted in the world’s courts? Where is the outrage?” Jackson asked.

The hearing on the use of rape as a weapon of war was the first-ever Congressional hearing on the issue of sexual violence in conflict and the sixth hearing of the Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law. Also testifying at today’s hearing were Karin Wachter, Acting Gender-Based Senior Technical Advisor at the International Rescue Committee, and Kelly Dawn Askin, the Senior Legal Officer at the Open Society Justice Initiative.



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Lynn Sweet

<Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on April 1, 2008 10:06 AM.

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