Watching The World

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Rape as a weapon of war

Despite ample evidence of this harrowing crime, precious little is done to save vulnerable victims when a conflict explodes.

I just read this absolutely superb article that I almost couldn’t bring myself to finish. If that sounds like a contradiction it’s because the subject matter was so horrific, yet the detail in the storytelling was so vivid and moving.

Eventually, I had to disengage because it was all felt so very real and I didn’t really want to face it. Indeed I only completed it at the third attempt.

The article is about a year old now but it tells an age-old tale. Entitled The Secret War Crime, it’s written by Time magazine’s Africa correspondent Aryn Baker and details the use of rape in military conflicts. First published in March 2016, Baker’s piece focuses mainly on the war in South Sudan, which like many other “unglamourous” conflicts, rages on with nary a column inch of media space or punitive action from world powers.

Firstly that South Sudan descended into civil war soon after breaking away from Sudan is tragic in and of itself. For the better part of 50 years, the Christian and animist south waged a war of liberation against the Islamist northern half of the country which enjoyed political dominance and among other things, was trying to impose Syariah law on the whole country.

The Second Sudanese Civil War raged from 1983 to 2005 and pitted the central governments of military dictators Gaafar Nimeiry and Omar-al-Bashir against the Sudan People’s Liberation Army led by John Garang. Garang’s death at the end of the war was a blow, but I was one of those who hoped that the independence of South Sudan in 2011 would herald a new beginning for the region.

Instead a new civil war erupted as a power struggle between President Salva Kiir Mayardit and his deputy Riek Machar descended into a violent tribal conflict between the Dinka and the Nuer tribes. It was against such a backdrop that massive use of rape became commonplace.

Still even knowing all that didn’t prepare me for the power of Baker’s piece. She talked to a young lady, Mary. Mary was from a Nuer village that was overrun by enemy soldiers. First, they shot her husband. Then, they killed her two sons aged just five and seven so that they wouldn’t grow up to be soldiers that could fight against them. And that wasn’t even the most painful part to read.

The soldiers then took turns to rape Mary’s 10-year-old daughter Nyalaat. In front of Mary’s eyes, they raped her and raped her until Mary said “I couldn’t see my little girl anymore. All I could see was blood.”

Nyalaat died a few hours later.

Just reading about it choked me up. I think we’re supposed to get over it, and not over-empathise. Sell ourselves falsehoods that divine justice will make everything all right in some future world, but I haven’t bought that line since I was a teen.

What sorrow that is borne of such an act of depravity and evil. In Mary’s story, it was almost secondary that she herself was then raped by six soldiers and found herself impregnated with the child of a hated foe.

Mary is one of tens of thousands of war-rape victims in South Sudan and there are even more in neighbouring Congo. The history of warfare is rife with tales of raped women treated as spoils, as conquests, as a means of instilling fear.

The ancient Greeks, the rape of Nanking, the Nazis in World War II, the Bosnian war, you name it, the threat of mass rape is one of the most chilling weapons a military can unleash.

As a man, I generally have not had to fear rape, although prison circumstances are different, I’m told and I once spent time in a city where the urban legend was that there was a group of males who prowled around late at night looking for men to rape.

I can’t even imagine what kind of person even gets aroused by the possibility of such a violent and invasive act. And if you were a soldier, why would you even take the risk of escalating a conflict to such an extent? Does it not mean if you lose the battle that your own loved ones would be at risk?

Earlier this month, four soldiers were arrested in the South Sudan capital of Jupa and will be tried for rape and dereliction of duty.

President Kir has claimed that soldier rapists will be shot.

Is it just lip service? When will this injustice end?

Star online news editor Martin Vengadesan sometimes thinks there is no depth to which humanity cannot sink.

Tags / Keywords: rape war sudanese

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