- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 8, 2004

LONDON — Raped, treated as the sexual spoils of war or slain by indiscriminate bombings, women too often are the first victims of conflict, Amnesty International charged yesterday in a report demanding legal redress.

The London-based human rights group called for action by the International Criminal Court to halt violence against women.

“Patterns of violence against women in conflict do not arise ‘naturally,’ but are ordered, condoned or tolerated as a result of political calculations,” Amnesty Secretary-General Irene Khan said in introducing the 120-page report on women in war.

Not only are women “considered as the legitimate booty of victorious army,” the report said, but “the use of rape as a weapon of war is perhaps the most notorious and brutal way in which conflicts impact on women.”

Miss Khan — the first woman, the first Asian and the first Muslim to head Amnesty International — told Agence France-Presse: “It’s quite interesting to see that women’s rights have been used as justification for military intervention, in the cases of both Iraq and Afghanistan.”

But, she added, “On the ground, the situation changes very little in favor of women … In the case of Afghanistan, we have seen no improvement.

“Warlords are occupying parts of the territory and see women as commodities for trading, to settle land dispute. Abductions and forced marriages are about as bad, if not worse, than at any time in Afghan history.”

Even where women are not targeted, they are the main victims of so-called “collateral damage,” whether caused by “precision” bombing or land mines, the report said.

“In Iraq in 2003, U.S. forces reportedly used more than 10,500 cluster munitions containing at least 1.8 million bomblets. An average failure rate of 5 percent would mean that about 90,000 unexploded munitions are now on Iraqi soil.”

The report urged the International Criminal Court to “pick up and prosecute one or two high-profile cases because that will send the message that violence against women cannot continue in such an impunity, which is the norm today.”

The court, headquartered at The Hague, began operating in July 2002 and is mandated to try genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Miss Khan acknowledged that progress would be tough, but said she hoped the report would generate pressure for change.

“Women and children make up 80 percent of the world’s 40 million refugees, but they have no voice and injustices go unpunished,” she said.

The report details widespread rape in conflicts around the world, including the Darfur region of Sudan, Colombia, Nepal, Chechnya, India and, this year, in the tiny Pacific territory of the Solomon Islands.

Tens of thousands of women and young girls were raped during the conflicts sweeping the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“Ten years on from the genocide in Rwanda, where violence against women was a central element of the strategy to eliminate a particular ethnic group, little or nothing seems to have been learned about how to prevent such horrors,” the report said.

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