Image Courtesy: www.independent.com.mt
I recently came across an article on the Vanity Fair website: Syria’s Unspoken Crimes. It struck me particularly because of how rape was being used, as a “deliberate tactic to terrorize and subjugate combatants and civilians“. This case is particularly special because usually you hear about wars being waged by a foreign enemy. However, the war in Syria is largely a civil war and the atrocities being committed on the people are often committed by their own government. President Bashar al-Assad’s army itself has been charged with some of the most atrocious crimes against humanity, over the past year.
In university I read a book by Michael Walzer entitled “Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument With Historical Illustrations”. He explained that every war is judged twice. The first kind of judgement is adjectival in character. For example, we say a particular war is just or unjust. The second judgement is adverbial, where we would ask ourselves if a war is fought justly or unjustly.
At this point in time, why the war in Syria started is irrelevant but, how it is being fought is of great concern. It should be understood that there are two types of people in a war, the combatants and the civilians and the state exists to defend the rights of these members. Whether it be by luck or sheer patriotic duty, combatants are thrust into war through possibly no choice of their own and forced to give up their basic rights to life and liberty.
Civilians on the other hand, still rely on the state to protect their fundamental rights of liberty and life. In the case of Syria and the epidemic of rape, these rights are being grossly violated. According to Walzer, a legitimate act of war is one that does not violate the rights of the people against who it is directed and state-sponsored rape certainly cannot qualify as a legitimate act of war.
Rape is a crime in war as in peace, because it violates the rights of the woman who is attacked. Rights, especially a civilian’s rights cannot be set aside, nor can they be balanced in a utilitarian sense against this or that desirable outcome. Simply put, a soldier cannot rape an innocent woman as a means to get information of insurgent or rebel activity that she may or may not be involved with.
Rape should not be used as a means to an end. It may seem that during a war, all rules are thrown out the window and in Syria’s case this may in fact be true. However, wars are largely rule governed. Just because a country is at war does not exempt them from complying with international law, it does not excuse their immoral behavior and it certainly does not make it OK to rape innocent civilians.
What do you guys think? Is a woman’s right to life, security and liberty less important if she is in a war zone? Who should be held accountable if such violence is state-sponsored?
We have a voice, use it.