Just over 50 years ago, no one was punished for the sexual enslavement of tens of thousands of women in World War Two. Today, conjugal slavery is recognised as a crime against humanity and being prosecuted in international courts.
“This is a huge change and one that should be applauded,” said Annie Bunting, an associate professor of law and society at York University in Canada who is leading a three-year research project on enslavement in war for forced marriage in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Rwanda, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Below are some key dates:
1945 – After World War Two, Japanese commanders and soldiers who sexually enslaved some 200,000 Korean ‘comfort women’ in military brothels were not prosecuted. Similarly, Nazi leaders were not prosecuted for sexual crimes at Nuremburg despite mentions of forced sterilisation, forced abortion and sexual mutilation.
1949 – Rape and enforced prostitution were included in the Fourth Geneva Convention as war crimes.
1998 – The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda recognised rape as an act of genocide and a crime against humanity for the first time in history. It sentenced former mayor Jean-Paul Akayesu to three life sentences for genocide and other crimes. Rape charges were added mid-trial after lobbying by women’s rights groups who were appalled by witness testimonies, including that of a mother who saw her six-year-old daughter being gang raped.
1998 – The Rome Statute of International Criminal Court (ICC) recognised sexual slavery, forced prostitution, sterilisation, pregnancy, and sexual violence as war crimes and crimes against humanity under its jurisdiction. It entered into force in 2002.
2003 – The Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) issued indictments for three Revolutionary United Front Commanders (RUF), Issa Sesay, Morris Kallon and Augustine Gbao, for crimes against humanity and war crimes including rape and sexual slavery.
2005 – The ICC issued its first indictment for Joseph Kony and four other members of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) for crimes against humanity and war crimes including sexual enslavement and rape.
2008 – The appeals chamber of the SCSL found that ‘forced marriage’ constituted a new crime against humanity distinct from sexual slavery.
2009 - RUF commanders Sesay, Kallon and Gboa were found guilty of forced marriage, as well as war crimes and crimes against humanity. This was the first time anyone had been convicted of forced marriage in an international criminal tribunal.
2009 – Victims of former Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga, who was on trial for conscription of child soldiers, applied for sexual slavery to be added to the charges against him. Their request was rejected.
2010 – Former Congolese warlord and vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba went on trial at the ICC, charged with criminal responsibility for rape in the Central African Republic. The trial is ongoing.
2011 – In delivering its guilty verdict against former Liberian president Charles Taylor for sexual slavery, among other crimes, the Special Court for Sierra Leone rejected the term ‘forced marriage’ and argued in favour of ‘conjugal slavery’ as more appropriate.
(Editing by Maria Caspani)