May 2014 saw a number of activists, celebrities and politicians gather in London for a Global Summit. The organizers of this event were the International Campaign to stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict.

The campaign has worked tirelessly to highlight the use of rape as a weapon of war. It has specifically targeted conflicts in Burma, Haiti, Congo, Colombia and Kenya where the use of rape as a weapon of war is well documented.


The Campaign's aims and methods are laudable. They are giving a voice to those who have suffered the most from sexual violence. They are supporting survivors groups and are working towards peace within the various theatres of conflict. Most of all they are calling for co-ordinated action from world leaders to help prevent rape from being used as a weapon of war in the future.


The campaign has been universally praised, and this being 2014, the #TimeToAct# took off exponentially as a powerful statement of online activism.

There is an absolute moral perfection to an anti-rape campaign. Moreover, this one has deployed a brilliant combination of pragmatism and communication. With this in mind, any criticism would seem wrongheaded at best and vile misogynist carping at worst.

And yet, the campaign deserves criticism. This is because the campaign is going to fail. It will fail because the issue is not rape as a weapon of war. The issue is war itself. By the time war has begun, rape will follow. To try and exclude sexual violence from conflict is to fly in the face of history and cold hard fact. It's not as though war was all sunshine and roses until those nasty rapists came along and ruined it for everyone.

Throughout history the violation of women, and men, has been both a fact of warfare and a fiercely debated moral issue among generals and politicians. There is a current belief that the direct involvement of civilians in warfare is a modern phenomenon. This is not true.

In conflicts during antiquity, women and children, being viewed as chattel or property, had far less protection under the law than in modern times. Although the Greeks had invented the legal idea of Hybris, which involved shaming or demeaning a victim, this crime did not overlap completely with acts of violence (sexual or not) towards either gender. The Roman Republic codified certain rules of warfare but this did not help women or children. As property they were regarded as spoils of war.

In the 9th century the Catholic Church attempted to draw a distinct line between soldiers and civilians during conflict as part of the Peace and Truce of God movement, an attempt to curb the murderous excesses of medieval kings. One of its notable ideas was the re-invention of chivalry, the idea of the Christian Knight nobly avoiding the crimes of war. However, the attempt failed and rape continued during wartime.

From the first century BC various Islamic States had established rules of warfare that explicitly protected non-combatants including women, children and the aged. Despite the various Hadiths attributed to Mohammed and his followers that attest to these rules, Islamic armies have also resorted to rape on numerous occasions in the last two millennia.

In Europe, the idea that non-combatants should be immune from conflict began to take hold in the 18th century. Various treaties in Europe and North America began to codify the prohibition of rape. The Lieber Code, which was the first comprehensive instruction to armies, was developed by a German and signed into law by an American President, Abraham Lincoln. The code was the first legal framework to protect the treatment of non-combatants during warfare. It was the pre-cursor to various other documents such as the Treaty of the Hague in 1907 and the various Geneva Protocols, developed over the late 19th and early 20th century.

The end of World War I saw a new development. The victorious allies established the Commission of Responsibilities, a committee charged with determining the causes of the war. Naturally this commission found that the losers were completely responsible for starting the conflict. This led to an example of victor's justice during the Leipzig War Crimes tribunal. Here, only Germans were prosecuted for war crimes during the Great War. However, even in this kangaroo court, efforts to prosecute anyone for rape committed during the war years failed.

In 1949, after the Second World War had seen rape and enforced prostitution on a vast, unprecedented scale, the classification of these as war crimes was enshrined in the final Geneva Convention.

However, despite the changing legal attitudes to these crimes over the centuries, the instances of rape during war, never actually changed that much. Rape had been classified as a war crime for over 50 years by the time Amnesty International released the report entitled 'Lives Blown Apart' in 2004.

The report highlighted instances of women being raped, sexually attacked, mutilated and humiliated in conflicts ranging over thirty different countries. It pointed out that such acts have become a means by which to terrorize, demean and defeat entire communities.

The authors of the report believed that rape was not inevitable and that it does not arise naturally. Rather, it's ordered, condoned and tolerated from the highest levels of politically and military powers. While there is no doubt that rape has been used strategically and tactically throughout the history of warfare, this statement doesn't explain the prevalence of sexual assault even when the armies rules explicitly forbid it.

The bottom line is that rape follows the outbreak of war irrespective of the rules that govern that war. To try and remove one while accepting the other will not work.

It's easy to see why this happens. During warfare all the rules of a normal functioning society are inverted.

'I learned nothing from war.' Roman Podabedo, a Russian anti-tank gunner said. 'War is not an activity for human beings; war is for criminals, rape, robbery and murder.' This is the heart of the problem. Soldiers are required to be criminals. Not only that, their acts of murder and theft are raised to the highest virtue, that of duty. Acts that are considered purely evil during peace-time become virtuous necessity during war. Soldiers have to live as both saint and sinner. Kipling caught the paradox perfectly in his poem 'Tommy. 



For it's Tommy this, an Tommy that, an Chuck him out, the brute!

But it's Saviour of is country when the guns begin to shoot;



It is ludicrous to think that we can train a man to murder and steal while calling these virtues, and then expect him to regard rape, which is just another expression of violence, as beyond the pale.

Moreover, both sides of the argument, rape as a strategy or rape as a natural consequence of war, lead to an inevitable conclusion. If you wish to stop the rapes, then stop the wars.

This is where the campaign needs to draw the line. It is all very well dragging in politicians and celebrities to raise your profile. However, sooner or later you end up dancing with the very devils you are trying to fight.

William Hague was the most prominent politician who took part in the Summit, happily having his picture taken with Angelina Jolie. There is a tendency to dismiss Hague as a lightweight. He has always carried himself with a pompous air that in no way reflects his career, a litany of embarrassment and failure. The failures were numerous, most notably being the first leader of his party to fail to become Prime Minister.

However, small figure that the might be on the political landscape, his actual influence, as Foreign Secretary, is enormous. Britain is still a player, albeit a reduced one, on the world stage. Hague has an option available that is simply not there for the rest of us. He can stop wars by the simple act of not planning, agitating, prolonging or just starting them in the first place.

But helping wars to happen is UK foreign policy and it always has been. Hague's first foreign adventure came with Lybia. He had ignored the brutal suppression of protest in Bahrain but decided that a similar siuation in Lybia was worthy of military action. Ironically, Hague's drive for war with Gadaffi's regime included the now disproven allegations of Viagra fueled mass rape by government forces. In the aftermath of the UK's air campaign against the Lybian government, the rebel forces took control of the conflict and eventually the whole country. The result, a failed, lawless state controlled by militias and awash with weapons where the government's reach doesn't even extend to the edges of its own capital city.

In this post revolutionary Lybia, which Hague helped to created, instances of actual rape, as opposed to the fictional version he touted, have increased. This is according to medical practitioners working within the country. For the last 4 years, Laila Bugaighis, a consultant gynaecologist working in Benghazi, has run the National Protection Against Violence Committee. This organization wants the establishment of shelters for victims of sexual abuse, and legal protection for women. The Lybian government have ignored her to this day.

When Syria came into Hague's gunsights he was ultimately stymied by his own parliament, which refused to go to war over the unproven allegations that the Syrian government was behind the Ghouta chemical attacks. After this defeat Hague remained determined to see military action and called on other governments to attack Lybia even when his own would not.

Ever the hawk, Hague called for military aggression against Iran throughout his time at the foreign office. This belligerent stance against a country that in no way threatens the UK is further evidence of the recklessness that has characterized Hague's tenure as Foreign Secretary.

His final contribution to world affairs was his support of the coup in Ukraine which has led directly to the current confrontation with Russia. Hague even went so far as to lie to the House of Commons, describing the illegal ousting of President Yanukovich as 'constitutional'. Supporting unrest against small Middle Eastern countries is one thing. But agitating for civil war on Russia's borders is the kind of determined lunacy that only governments are capable of.

I hope that the International Campaign to stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict succeeds in its aims. But it is hard to see that happening when you are prepared to stand shoulder to shoulder with a man who enables rapists as a byproduct of his own warmongering. The Campaign needs to understand that war is the problem. The best way to prevent war is to resist the likes of Hague, not to give him photo opportunities.

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 22 May 2018 17:47 )