June 19 marks the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict.
Ten years ago, the UN Security Council officially recognized and condemned sexual violence in conflict as a tactic of war and an impediment to peacebuilding.
In 2015, as a response, the UN General Assembly proclaimed June 19 of each year the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict. The intent of this proclamation is to raise awareness of the need to sexual violence in conflict, to honour the victims and survivors of sexual violence across the globe, to pay tribute to those who have lost their lives and those who continue to dedicate their lives towards the eradication of these crimes against humanity.”
While the prosecution of sexual violence (including rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, forced abortion, enforced sterilization, and forced marriage) employed in conflict as a political act is a relatively recent phenomenon, its enactment is not.
Large-scale, systemic utilization of sexual violence has been used throughout history as intentional, deliberate tactics to assert power, dominance, and to dehumanize the opponent and attack their identity. This type of violence falls outside military needs and adds tremendous cruelty and suffering to already violent conflicts.
One of the first cases of international law dealing with sexual violence in conflict was the International Military Tribunal for the Far East WWII (1945). In the trial, several people were found guilty of rape on the basis of command responsibility during the Nanjing Massacre, where an estimated 20,000 to 80,000 Chinese women and girls were raped and some 300,000 people were killed.
Western eyewitnesses in Nanjing described the atrocities as “Hell on Earth”.
Iris Chang’s book, The Rape of Nanking, argues that many more people could have been tried for the atrocities in Nanjing, but justice was set aside for many perpetrators for political reasons. Rape was listed as a crime against humanity in the Allied Control Council Law in the Nuremberg Trials, but there were no prosecutions that followed from it.
The nonrecognition of sexual violence as a political act and tactic of war, and the nonrecognition of the gendered nature of such violence, hinder efforts to seek accountability and justice. This adds to the ongoing failures of peacekeepers and other authorities to protect women and men from rape and sexual violence during war and conflict worldwide.
Over the course of the Second World War, an estimated 200,000 women and girls from China, Korea, Burma, Indonesia, the Philippines, and other occupied territories in Asia were tricked, kidnapped, or coerced into working in brothels to serve as “comfort women”.
The effects of sexual violence echo across generations, through trauma, stigma, poverty, and poor health. Today, the world we live in continues to be haunted by conflict, militarism, and the senseless loss of human lives through warfare.
The UN currently recognizes 19 countries in conflict where the sexual violence is especially problematic.
The government of Canada has repeatedly stated its commitment to advancing human rights and gender equality both at home and at the international level. It is therefore pertinent that large-scale acts of violence in history are remembered and studied so that atrocities in the past and present are not repeated.
It is only through the recognition and remembrance of historical wrongs that we can find healing and reconciliation.
In this spirit of “never again,” on November 30, 2017, I called on the government to establish December 13 of every year as Nanjing Massacre Commemorative Day.
As the years pass, there are not many surviving victims left. It is my hope that the government will work with me to get this done this year.
The Nanjing Massacre should not be a "forgotten holocaust".
Victims of sexual violence should not be forgotten.
I hope you can support my endeavour by signing my petition on my website at jennykwan.ndp.ca.