Rethinking the Concept of Harm and Legal Categorizations of Sexual Violence During War

Theoretical Inquiries in Law 1 (2) (2000)
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Abstract

Sexual violence experienced by women during interstate and internal conflict has long escaped legal regulation. This article explores tile extent of that lacuna by analyzing and reflecting upon experiences of sexual violation during the Holocaust. While it is inappropriate to describe the Holocaust experience as a facet of war per se, its horrors did occur in the context of war and thus ex post facto legal accountability for the perpetration of those dreadful events fall under the legal rubric of international humanitarian law. The article explores the extent to which humanitarian law has limited definitional capacity to address the unique ways in which violence is directed towards and experienced by women. The article also demonstrates that sexual harms combine direct sexual harm to women with broader objectives of eliminating the cultural, social, and physical integrity of the community to which the women belong. The article claims that both victims and perpetrators of sexual harms understand the compounded function of sexual violence, but that international law fails to name or adequately sanction either aspect sexual harms. The article goes on to assert that in establishing dual conceptions of harm, there may be multiple bearers of rights when questions of remedy arise. Traditional notions of individualized entitlement to rights are inadequate to fully account for the communities of harm resulting from gendered violence that takes place in the context of war.

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