War in Ukraine: why is rape considered a weapon of war?

Here, in Boutcha, where massacres of civilians have been perpetrated.
Here, in Boutcha, where massacres of civilians have been perpetrated. (© OLEG PETRASYUK / EPA / MaxPPP)

Boutcha, Kherson, Hostomel, Irpin…. These cities resonate today as the scene of atrocities committed against Ukrainian civilians. From massacres first, how boucha or some They found hundreds of bodiesbut also violations

Although it is difficult to document and quantify these crimes, it is clear that testimonies of rape victims multiply.

Inside a report On April 3, the NGO Human Rights Watch reported on the story of a 31-year-old woman who said she had been raped several times by a Russian soldier at a school in the Kharhiv region.

The soldier took her to a classroom, where he pointed a gun at her and told her to undress. She said, “she put the gun to my temple or pointed it at my face. She twice she shot at the ceiling and said it was to give me more “motivation”. He raped her, then told her to sit on a chair… he raped her again, put a knife to her throat and cut the skin on her neck. The photos she shared with Human Rights Watch, dated March 19 and 20, show cuts and bruises on her neck and face.

human rights monitor

This chilling story is not isolated.

“They raped girls and women”

The proof with this other testimony: that of a Ukrainian psychologist who collected rape victims. “The soldiers were checking who lived in the houses. Then they would come back at night, kill any man in the house, loot money and valuables. They ate and drank what they found, and when they got drunk they raped girls and women. Even in the presence of children.tells the Figaro.

The AFP has, for its part, collected the testimony of a Ukrainian woman victim of rape.

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In March, before the world discovered Boutcha’s horror, a conversation He was captured on Telegram between a Russian soldier and his mother. This one that says:

In a nearby town, the boys raped an adult woman and a 16-year-old girl.

a russian soldier

Horrific as they are, these rape stories from Ukraine are a reminder that these crimes have always been committed during conflict. All of them were used as a weapon whose objective would not only be destruction, but also humiliation, ethnic cleansing and propaganda.

humiliate the other

“Rape in times of war is almost systematic. We have seen it everywhere and on all continents. Like sexual exploitation”, he observes her with actu.fr Françoise Duroch, head of a reflection unit at Doctors Without Borders in Switzerland. “As if the woman [victime majoritaire des viols, Ndlr] was spoils of war »

Rape has long been considered a constituent element of war, soldiers take over the land, then the women.

Francoise DurochDoctors without borders

This “seizure of power” through rape can also hide the desire to humiliate the enemy, to defame him. In the past, when rape was perpetrated in times of war, there was talk of tarnishing the honor of a family or a nation, long before thinking of the victim.

example with the nanjing massacre, in 1937 during the Sino-Japanese war where children were raped, sometimes in front of their families, girls were forced into prostitution and fathers were forced to rape their daughters. Goal : desecrate an entire town.

“ethnic cleansing”

During conflicts, rape can also be used in a “logic of ethnic purification”, says the expert, “so it was during the war in the former Yugoslavia where large-scale rapes were organized”.

At that time, that is, in the 1990s, Serbs were attacking Muslim villages and rapes of Muslim women were common.

Worse still, “they had been committed by order of the high authorities and under their supervision, for which they had been used as a weapon of war intended to force the inhabitants to leave their homes, clearly framing an expansionist strategy.” “, indicated in 1994 a working group of UNESCO.

From rape fields they even settled in Foča (in southeastern Bosnia and Herzegovina) where Serb soldiers could come and go, taking women and girls “whom they raped, tortured and then humiliated in the most cruel way”, reports an article of the Judicial Journal of The Hague.

And this, always in this perspective of “ethnic cleansing” led by the Serbian forces. In other words, lead to a certain homogenization of the population.

It should be noted that all the rapes perpetrated in the former Yugoslavia were not committed in this logic of ethnic cleansing since “many men were victims of sexual abuse”.

a propaganda tool

In other respects, the rape can be used for propaganda purposes. As if to indicate to the populations what they risk enduring.

The staging that sometimes surrounds rapes can give an indication of the military objective: to humiliate a community in the case of attacks committed in public or to destroy social and family ties.

Francoise Duroch

It is also a way to scare people into taking over their territories.

The open wounds of the victims

let it go a military order or if it is an individual act motivated by a political or religious convictionrape acquires, in time of war, the features of a weapon of mass destruction the physical and psychological devastation is so great.

“Rape does not stop when hostilities end. There are wounds that persist”, explains Françoise Duroch. Especially when a child is born as a result of forced sex: these new mothers can be marginalized from society.

In some cases, and to get out of it, they prostitute themselves. An endless circle.

A war crime?

The International Criminal Court characterizes sexual crimes, including rape, committed in times of war as “war crimes, crimes against humanity and even genocide” when it is committed “with the intent to destroy all or part of a national, ethnic, racial or religious group”.

The alleged violations in Ukraine are currently the subject of several open investigations by the International Criminal Court and also by the Prosecutor General of Ukraine. Because it will be opportune to classify these violations as war crimes or not.

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