Sexual Violence as a Weapon of War
At Peace at Loud, we believe that if we want a more peaceful world, we must make sure that the fundamental rights and security of women are recognized and protected in war. But that’s not often the case.
Thankfully, there are people in the world like the two most recent Nobel Peace Prize winners who are fighting for these protections. In 2014, Nadia Murad, a member of the Yazidi minority in northern Iraq, was taken captive by ISIS members and sexually enslaved for three months before escaping. In 2016, at the age of 23, she was named the U.N.’s first Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking. Last week, she became the co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, along with Dr. Denis Mukwege, a gynecologist from the Democratic Republic of the Congo who treats survivors of rape.
The pair were named for their work to highlight and eliminate the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war, according to the Norwegian Nobel Committee.
“We want to send out a message of awareness that women, who constitute half of the population in most communities, actually are used as a weapon of war — and that they need protection,” said Berit Reiss-Andersen, the chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.
“War is the apotheosis of patriarchy,” our founder Abigail Disney told TIME Magazine. “Men conducting battle on and in women’s bodies; and we have no value except as it relates to them. We are property. Women won’t be safe until the end of conflict and some might say that’s pie in the sky. But conflict is inevitable. Violence is a choice.”
Prioritizing the Prosecution of Rape in Conflict
Over the past year, we’ve been working on impact campaigns for the documentary The Uncondemned, directed by Michele Mitchell and Nick Louvel, which tells the gripping story of those who fought to make rape a crime of war through the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda’s trial of Jean-Paul Akayesu, the mayor of the Rwandan town of Taba whose criminal responsibility was based on both his direct and indirect participation in the 1994 genocide. It was the first time in history that rape was prosecuted as a crime against humanity and also a crime of genocide.
The film reveals the hidden story behind one of the most groundbreaking cases in international law—and puts a human face on the legal victory by spotlighting the women integral to the case’s success. The film also highlights the disproportionate impact of conflict on women and reinforces the definition of rape as an act of deadly intent—but it also inspires future action by showing the power women hold when they organize collectively.
While the conviction of Akayesu in Rwanda set a historic precedent, many people in positions of power in the international community still do not prioritize the prosecution of rape in conflict. With the support of The Channel Foundation, Peace is Loud’s impact campaign aimed to change that. Our impact campaign for the film focused on the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Haiti, two countries heavily affected by sexual violence during conflict and where pending International Criminal Court (ICC) cases exist. We partnered with grassroots organizations to present the film as a case study on how women can use community organizing to enter spaces where power is concentrated and transform those spaces into ones that protect and uphold human rights in an effort to promote lasting social change.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
More than a decade after the end of the DRC’s civil war, fighting continues among rival ethnic groups, militia groups, and government forces in the eastern part of the country. Not only is sexual violence rampant, but it is often met with impunity because its prosecution is not prioritized, legal teams lack necessary resources, and survivors face barriers to asserting their rights and fighting for justice.
Given the unfortunate similarities between the DRC and Rwanda, including a pending ICC case against a former Congolese military general, Peace is Loud decided to work with its grassroots partner, Synergie des Associations Feminines du Congo (Synergie), to launch its impact campaign for The Uncondemned in the DRC. Synergie is a women-led network of 40 Congolese grassroots organizations that provide support services (psychosocial, medical and legal aid) to survivors of sexual violence in North Kivu.
As reported in Newsweek, among other sources, Haiti has had increasingly high levels of impunity for sexual violence and severe human rights violations since the 2010 earthquake. “[In Haiti] women’s organizations have pushed for reforms to the penal code to improve legislation protecting women, though government inaction and political instability have stalled the attempts. Rape became a serious crime only in 2005, after a group of women pushed for a change in the law. (Previously, a rapist could pay off or marry his victim.)…Though rape is a perennial problem in Haiti because of poverty, instability and attitudes toward women, reports of sexual violence surged after the 2010 earthquake.”
As a result, again with the support of the Channel Foundation, we implemented The Uncondemned screenings and accompanying discussions and workshops with local Haitian partner, Ayiti Nexus, and The Uncondemned Executive in Charge and founder of Let Haiti Live, Melinda Miles.