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Rape in Times of Conflict and War

Their infants will be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses will be plundered, and their wives ravished (Isaiah 13:16).

Women are raped in Zion, virgins in the towns of Judah (Lamentations 5:11).

For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city shall be taken and the houses looted and the women raped; half the city shall go into exile, but the rest of the people shall not be cut off from the city (Zechariah 14:2).

"We believe war is incompatible with the teachings and example of Christ. We therefore reject war as an instrument of national foreign policy, to be employed only as a last resort in the prevention of such evils as genocide, brutal suppression of human rights, and unprovoked international aggression. We insist that the first moral duty of all nations is to resolve by peaceful means every dispute that rises between or among them; that human values must outweigh military claims as governments determine their priorities; that the militarization of society must be challenged and stopped; that the manufacture, sale, and deployment of armaments must be reduced and controlled; and that the production, possession, or use of nuclear weapons be condemned" (Social Principles, ¶ 165C).

For centuries, women have been raped as an act of violence and a demonstration of power-most especially in times of conflict and wars. Rape has been and is sanctioned by military organizations for the gratification of soldiers as was seen in several Asian countries during World War II. The comfort women from Korea (some 80%) and from China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Burma, Indonesia, East Timor, the Philippines and the Pacific Islands are a most blatant example of this practice. Rape during wartime constitutes many individual and group acts of violence perpetrated by soldiers against girls and women of enemy countries or opposing sides, often under orders. Thus rape, in effect, is used as an extension of warfare. But rape is rarely mentioned in resolutions and statements on war and peace. And the conquest of women as spoils of war continues to be tolerated in times of conflict.

Mass rape is an increasingly sophisticated weapon of war, used in the Bosnia-Herzegovina conflict and in other conflicts-such as Haiti, Georgia (CIS), Rwanda, and in other parts of the world today.

Survivors of conflicts speak of rape on the frontline and third-party rape; these rapes are carried out publicly by soldiers to demoralize family members and opposition forces compelled to witness them.

Many stories refer to village communities being rounded up in camps-perhaps a school or community center-where a space is cleared in the middle. It is in this space that public raping takes place. It is reported as repeated and violent and procedural. It is claimed that many of the victims and witnesses know the rapists.

Destruction and violation of women is one way of attacking male opponents who regard the women as their property-and whose male identity is therefore bound to protection of their property.

The United Methodist Church affirms the sacredness of all persons and their right to safety, nurture, and care. And, together with the international community, it is challenged to respond to the rape of women in military conflicts. The extent and frequency of the violation of women in war must not be allowed to deaden sensitivity to this as gross injustice. There must be greater understanding of the use of rape in this manner (as a weapon of warfare). Documentation and analysis of such planned violation of human rights and its root causes must be developed. Strategizing to confront systems that give rise to it and the needs of those who are its victims must be undertaken.

International instruments such as The Hague Conventions and the Geneva Conventions included prohibitions on rape and sexual violence but these crimes were not codified in their charters. And while, evidence on sexual violence was presented at the International Military Tribunals after World War II, the crime did not get singled out but was included in the accusations of Crimes Against Humanity-Inhumane Treatment. Not until the International Criminal Tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda did the crimes of sexual violence become recognized and prosecuted. In February 2001, in the Hague, three Bosnian Serbs were convicted of rape and sexual enslavement of Muslim women and girls. This was the first time in history that defendants had been condemned exclusively for sexual violence. In addition the judges asserted that the rape was used as an "instrument of terror" and as a "systematic attack "on the Muslim populations. The judgment declared rape as a crime against humanity.

". . . crimes against international law are committed by men, not by abstract entities, and only by punishing individuals who commit such crimes can the provisions of international law be enforced." The Judgment of the Nuremberg Tribunal

In 2002, the International Criminal Court was established in The Hague. Unlike the International Court of Justice (also in the Hague) which handles issues between states, the

International Criminal Court deals with individual responsibility for acts of genocide and egregious violations of human rights, crimes against humanity. No longer will there be the need for setting up International Criminal Tribunals. The Treaty setting up the Court has been ratified by more that 90 Countries and represents an international community which will no longer tolerate genocide, ethnic cleansing, murder, rape and brutalization of civilians trapped in military conflicts.

We call on The United Methodist Church:

  1. to condemn all forms of rape as incompatible with the church's understanding of the sacredness of life; and to affirm the right of all persons to safety, nurture, and care;
  2. to urge United Methodists to work towards the ratification by their country of the Treaty establishing the International Criminal Court;
  3. to urge the General Board of Global Ministries to develop an anthology of theological and biblical perspectives of rape in times of war, written by survivors and other women who have observed and reflected on this grave concern;
  4. to urge both the General Board of Global Ministries and the General Board of Church and Society to act as resources for churches who wish to pressure for legal and political redress for victims of rape in times of war; and
  5. to urge the United Methodist Committee on Relief to continue developing assistance and support for women victims of war and their families, to meet their physical and emotional needs. This may mean supporting, as wartime refugees, women who cannot return to their homes because of fear of rape, violence, and condemnation.

readopted 2008
Resolution #333, 2004 Book of Resolutions
Resolution #314, 2000 Book of Resolutions

See Social Principles, ¶ 165.

From The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church - 2008. Copyright © 2008 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.