Banish Rape as a Practice in Armed Conflict

TIZIANA PLEBANI
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What happened to many of the Israeli women kidnapped by Hamas men, often gang raped accompanied by mockery and further outrages, if not mutilation, done to their bodies, filmed by the perpetrators, who were proud of such atrocities, suggests to us that the practice (it is horrifying to define it this way) of rape during conflicts has not yet been sufficiently placed at the center of attention. Indeed, it has often been silenced, hidden or diminished by the drama of situations of war and terror. Israeli historian Christina Lamb reiterated this as well in her November 23 article published in La Repubblica, however, those who have dealt with the fate of civilians during world conflicts in recent years have also reported the lack of adequate focus.

One of the many examples concerns the rapes of the women of Friuli and Veneto committed by the Germanic and Austro-Hungarian occupation troops in 1917. Historian Daniele Ceschin, in a fine book edited by Bruna Bianchi, has pointed out that despite an impressive quantity – 90 percent of women were subjected to actual or attempted violence – only recently have studies begun to deal with it. But what is more relevant is that the objective of the inquiry that was established at the time was to establish the amount of damage caused by the troops during the invasion. This perspective meant that violence against women was “dismissed as a purely statistical fact”, and in any case “the acts carried out against the rights of nations and in defiance of international conventions were at the time simply attributed to the brutality of the enemy”. Brutality, as recent events have unfortunately taught us, is a generic term that seems to refer to a bestiality that emerges from nowhere and leaves things as they are.

Quite recently, thousands of rapes of Italian women carried out in 1944 in Tuscany, Lazio and Sicily by Moroccan troops under the French army were discovered, as well as those carried out by Soviet troops on German women in Berlin. Even more recently, attempts were made to hide the enormous amount of sexual violence, often resulting in murder, perpetrated by American soldiers on women in Vietnam, while the violence carried out by the Serbs on Bosnian women was better known. And the chain of horror visited upon women goes on: Rwanda, Iraq, and now Ukraine, almost as if it were taken for granted that it must happen during war.

On one hand it is good to ask whether the International Humanitarian Law for the protection of civilians in armed conflicts should be updated, and to ask that it goes beyond defining rape as a crime, as has been done, but rather prepares to impose sanctions on sexual violence against women with greater attention. Above all it should be made a matter of specific commitment and constant monitoring, thus avoiding it being grouped in with the indistinct mass of violence against civilians in which the gender component is blurred.

However, perhaps the other pressing need regards spreading the awareness – by all means, instruments and media – that rape during wars cannot and must not be considered inevitable, as Christina Lamb has already pointed out, almost as if it were an automatic corollary to the relationship with those who are considered enemies.

Historian Joanna Bourke, in her excellent book, Rape. A History of Sexual Violence, recalls that rapes by armies have almost always been encouraged, legitimized or more than tolerated, either by precise military orders given by commanders, or by the permissive attitudes of superiors or team leaders. It is certain that this incitement was given to the members of Hamas. However, it is possible to act so that this practice is banished precisely from the fundamentals of behavior in war, and that it is not only specifically sanctioned by the courts that deal with international law, but that this expulsion becomes an integral part of the mindset of military training, and that this can be passed down from the hierarchies, starting from commanders and every kind of leader, to imbue that entire environment.

And the responsibility for the act must lie with both the individual man and with his superior.

Remember the story of Simone Weil, in Venezia Salva. The evening before the capture of the city, Jaffier, the leader of the conspiracy against Venice, imagines the devastation, the rapes and the looting – the usual reward promised to the soldiers – and, looking at the city from above and the life flowing there, he decides against giving the command to start the massacre of Venice and saves it. Even with weapons in hand, you can and must choose.

Translation by Paul Rosenberg

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Banish Rape as a Practice in Armed Conflict ultima modifica: 2023-11-25T20:45:06+01:00 da TIZIANA PLEBANI
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