Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Another side of the violence.

Human Rights Watch issued a report on the sexual violence against women in Sierra Leone from 1991 to 2001:

Throughout the armed conflict in Sierra Leone from 1991 to 2001, thousands of women and girls of all ages, ethnic groups, and socioeconomic classes were subjected to widespread and systematic sexual violence, including individual and gang rape, and rape with objects such as weapons, firewood, umbrellas and pestles. These crimes of sexual violence were generally characterized by extraordinary brutality and frequently preceded or followed by other egregious human rights abuses against the victim, her family and her community. The rebels abducted many women and girls, who were subjected to sexual violence as well as being forced to perform housework, farm work and serve as military porters.

The rebels sought to dominate women and their communities by deliberately undermining cultural values and community relationships, destroying the ties that hold society together. Child combatants raped women who were old enough to be their grandmothers, rebels raped pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, and fathers were forced to watch their daughters being raped.

To date there has been no accountability for the thousands of crimes of sexual violence or other appalling human rights abuses committed during the war in Sierra Leone.

Sexual violence is hardly a new aspect to war. Harrowing tales have been detailed by countless war correspondents, including Peter Maass in his brilliant "Love Thy Neighbor." The problem is, victims of sexual violence often are acknowledged only long after the other atrocities of war have been accounted for--and sometimes not at all. And as the HWR report notes, even when such violence is chronicled, it does no one any good unless something is done about it and the victims are assisted in attempts at recovery. Which they often aren't.

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