Every armed conflict has its death toll and its rape toll. Last year, according to the HIIK, 31 high-intensity violent conflicts were raging in the world. Therefore, women, men and children were victims of sexual violence in at least 31 countries/regions. Why does an earthquake get all the attention? Do we only have compassion (and media space) for disasters of nature? What about the wonton cruelty of humankind – can we digest figures of rape?

After the Cold War, the nature of war has changed considerably. No longer did solders stand against soldiers, but rather armed factions against civilians. What used to be part of an after-battle looting became the main strategy of war making. In former Yugoslavia women were held in so called rape camps; in Bosnia and Herzegovina alone around 50,000 were raped in 1992, but it was 1994 Rwanda that topped everything we knew about the cruelty and extent to which rape can be committed. In less than a year more than 250,000 women and girls were raped; forms “varied and included individual rape; gang-rape; rape with sticks, guns, or other objects; sexual enslavement; forced marriage; forced labor; and sexual mutilation” (Human Rights Watch).

This week I will focus on the abyss of human behavior. Why does the international community lack the political will to stop systematic sexual violence? With the crucial verdict in Kunarac Case at the ICTY*, a groundbreaking international jurisprudence was achieved: even a single rape in war counts as a war crime! A decade of civil wars later, the prosecution of sexual violence under international humanitarian law is still ineffective, the norm responsibility to protect deteriorated to an empty wording, and media editors find stories of raped nations too cruel to print. (Ah, as long as we know with whom Paris had dinner last night!)

* International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia