Sexual Violence and Victim-Centred Approach: A Transitional Justice Perspective - Blueboard by Ma Lourdes Veneracion-Rallonza, Ph.D.

November 26, 2019

 
 
Let us understand something: sexual violence is not about sex alone, it is about power that one forces over another and uses sexual advances to achieve their goal. As argued by Susan Brownmiller, author of Against our Will (1975), “a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear.” Thus, rape is about power through the use of sexual violence.
 
War Time Rape
 
Rape and pillage has historically been seen as a part of warfare. Women's bodies served as battle field of men's victory, on the one hand, and their enemy's failure to protect their women and property, on the other. The inevitability of 'spoils of war,' as commonly known --- all done by perpetratos with impunity, all suffered in silence by the the victims.
 
Horrific sexual and gender-based violence atrocity crimes --- where various forms of sexual violence, including the use of rape as a weapon of war --- have punctuated armed conflict violence as such in the case of the Rape of Nanking; abduction, sexual slavery and enforced prostitution of so called 'comfort women' across East and Southeast Asia; rape and forced impregnation of women during the 1971 Bangladeshi independence war; sexual slavery and forced impregnation during the Yugoslav war; genocidal rape in Rwanda and most recently, claims of the same happening with the Rohingya. The list goes on.
 
But it is not only during war that women are atrociously violated. Even during protest movements, women are sexually assaulted, as in the case of the Arab Spring and quite recently, committed against women protesters in South Sudan.
 
At the macro level, standards and commitments to prevent rape and sexual violence in war time and armed conflict situations have been institutionalised. This has been the discursive and  practical agenda of United Nations Security Council Resolutions on Women, Peace and Security (UNSCR WPS) --- namely, 1325 and 1820 and the subsequent resolutions. But even more so is the guidance provided by the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women General Recommendation (CEDAW GR) 30. Furthermore, the Rome Statute of Interrnational Criminal Court (ICC) mandates that war time rape and sexual violence are war crimes, crimes against humanity, and crimes constitutive of genocide.
 
Gender and Transitional Justice: Sexual and Mass Atrocity Crimes against Women
 
From the lens of transitional justice, a ‘victim-centered’ approach simply means putting the interests, concerns, and aspirations of the victims as the focus of redress and interventions, be they reflective of the right to truth, right to justice, right to reparation, and guarantee of non-recirrence.
 
For example, in the case of massive conflict-related rape and sexual violence, it is a must that gender and culture sensitive strategies are applied in data collection and in dealing with women victims. The whole point of the matter is not to re-victimize these women who already are experiencing a ‘fate worse than death.’ Strategies to draw out narratives as not meant for sensationalization (which is highly likely when sexual violence is politicized in partisan politics or in ideological advocacies) --- rather, they are intended to address the violence and victimization of women. The imperative of a gender is applied to transitional justice.
 
As such, several truth commission reports --- namely, South Africa, Peru, Timor Leste, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Morocco, Guatemala, and Haiti --- have included sexual and gender-based violence in specific chapters. The Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) on the Bangsamoro in the Philippines also included a particular section on sexual violence against women. Narratives of violence against women with both gender and cultural underpinnings surfaced in the form of attacks by the Ilagas; state forces were also said to have committed sexual and gender-based atrocity crimes. In fact, the TJRC Consultation Process “suggest that violence against women was used systematically against the Moro and indigenous population” before, during, and after Martial Law. And it is in this regard that the TJRC called for investigations on sexual and gender-based atrocities during this period.
 
Further Silencing the Silenced
 
And yet, there have been moves at historical revisionism --- self-proclaimed robust research of decades hence in order to provide a self-written truth against community narratives. Why in world would rape and sexual violence victims invent their stories? In communities where these issues are considered taboo, one would rarely find someone who will openly talk about violence committed against them. And when they do decide to speak, it is usually in secret spaces, far from stigmatization and ostracization. But here comes men who speak about hoaxes with no due regard for damaged and pained lives; who have no way of knowing what it means to be sexually violated, the kind of self-blame that one goes through in a life time, the trauma that further silences the silenced. These men are political operatives who know nothing about victimization.
 
As we move into the 18-Day Campaign on Violence against Women these year, there is a need to go beyond administrative political rhetorics and clearly map out actual actions and redress for women who have been victims of conflict-related sexual and gender-based violence. In the case of the Bangsamoro, the TJRC recommended that an investigation into emblematic cases such as that of sexual and gender-based atrocity crimes must be undertaken as imperative action. 
 
If we are not able to do this for past atrocities, then how can we meaningfully advance a gender just society? Maybe we are just all talk after all…
 
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Ma Lourdes Veneracion-Rallonza, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science, Ateneo de Manila University. She currently serves as the Program Director of the Gender and Atrocity Prevention, Asia Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect.