Instrument of Terror: The Body as the Battlefield

Michelle E. Robinson, University of Alberta

In February 2001, a landmark judicial decision was made at the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague that recognized rape as a crime that occurs during war. This paper examines the use of rape in wartime as an instrumental and strategic part of warfare. In substantiating this objective, two arguments are presented. First, I argue that rape is an instrumental tool, or component of terror, in war. Rape uses the human body as territory upon which terror issymbolically marked. Second, I argue that rape in war is conceivable as symbolic genocide. By not limiting the conception of genocide to the natural or physical termination of life, rape becomes a battle raged upon the human body. Rape is symbolic genocide in the sense that raped women are symbolically marked through forced pregnancy, the bearing of mixed blood children, and the stigma of being raped by men from the "enemy" culture. In this respect, I argue that the use of rape is an invisible tactic with visible consequences in its destruction and elimination of a culture, evidenced through the sexual enslavement and rapes of Muslim women during the Bosnian war.

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Updated 05/20/2006