Rape in Times of Conflict and War

A resolution from the General Board of Global Ministries
approved by the 1996 General Conference of The United Methodist Church

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 and 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, ¶ 69C).

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 of Korea 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, as it is being used in the Bosnia-Herzegovina conflict and in other conflicts—such as Haiti, Georgia (CIS), and Rwanda—in 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 current tribunals against war crimes undertaken in Rwanda and Bosnia have acknowledged rape as a form of torture, since it is not specifically mentioned in existing international laws.

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 Geneva Conventions must be strengthened to ensure condemnation of rape as a war crime with appropriate enforcement and monitoring.

At local and regional levels, churches and concerned groups must pressure for legal and political decisions to protect victims of rape. It is not sufficient to articulate condemnations of crime; practical actions to effect change must follow.

As part of the overall humanitarian responses to physical and emotional needs, it is a matter of urgency that adequate and appropriate attention be given to the psychological needs of women raped in war.

The task of supporting these survivors—as well as their children, families, and communities—requires massive commitment, resources, and expertise.

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 the United Methodist Office for the UN to work toward including the condemnation of rape as a war crime in international instruments such as the Geneva Conventions;

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 decisions to protect victims of rape in times of war; and

5. To urge UMCOR 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.

See Social Principles, ¶ 69; "The United Methodist Church and Peace."

From The Book of Resolutions, 1996. Copyright © by the United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.

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