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Leitner Center Speaker Talks About Rape as a Weapon in Conflicts Across the Globe

SEPTEMBER 17, 2015
In modern warfare, the rape of women has become the most powerful, cost-effective weapon available for destroying nations, shattering the lives of women, families, and entire communities, demoralizing enemy forces and, in some cases, catalyzing genocide.

Until recently, most countries in the United Nations looked the other way, prioritizing other populations and considerations, such as prisoners of war, before assisting victims of sexual violence.

But due to the efforts of a small contingency of non-governmental organizations,
the UN Security Council and certain countries have been moving toward a more progressive agenda in protecting victims, including allowing funds for reproductive services.

“What happens to women in these circumstances (of sexual violence) needs to be taken as seriously as what happens when Syria uses chemical weapons,” said Akila Radhakrishnan, the legal director of the Global Justice Center, a social justice NGO dedicated to promoting gender equality.
Radhakrishnan spoke before a group of Fordham Law students on September 15 as part of the brown bag lunch series sponsored by the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice.

Rape has been used more than many other acts of war including starvation, the use of herbicides, biological or chemical weapons and means of torture, in enacting terrorism and destabilizing governments, according to the GJC. Yet, despite its endemic use it has not been recognized as a prohibited weapon or tactic of war under the Geneva Convention and no state has ever been held accountable for the use of rape as an illegal tactic of war.

Radhakrishnan discussed the GJC’s Geneva Initiative, which uses universally accepted laws as the foundation for global enforcement of human rights guarantees. Currently, the GJC has focused on the lifting of the ban on abortion attached to U.S. foreign aid, and has been lobbying President Obama for an executive order for abortion funding.

As the world’s single largest aid donor, the United States imposes its abortion ban on nearly all of the main providers of medical care for war victims, including the conflict countries themselves, multilateral organizations such as the United Nations and other NGOs. Several other Western countries, including the United Kingdom, have adopted positive policies allowing for abortion funding under international law, signaling the far-reaching scope of the problem and a sea change in attitudes toward solving it.

“It’s unacceptable that a 12-year-old child might have a child that is ostracized and become ostracized herself—or die in childbirth—because the Obama administration is too scared of Congress to do anything,” Radhakrishnan said.

The GJC also works with women’s groups in countries like Burma to combat impunity for sexual violence, works with a variety of stakeholders globally to change laws and attitudes toward rape in conflict, and has successfully lobbied to have abortion for rape victims considered necessary, non-discriminatory medical care.


Adrian Brune