Rape as a Crime under International Humanitarian Law

Theodor Meron

in War Crimes Law Comes of Age

Published in print January 1999 | ISBN: 9780198268567
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191683534 | DOI:
Rape as a Crime under International Humanitarian Law

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This chapter considers one example of the egregious violations of human dignity in former Yugoslavia: rape. Specifically, it looks at the current status of rape as a crime under international humanitarian law. Under the weight of the events in former Yugoslavia, the hesitation to recognize that rape can be a war crime or a grave breach has begun to dissipate. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and various states aided this development by adopting a broad construction of existing law. The ICRC declared that the grave breach of ‘wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health’ (Article 147 of the fourth Geneva Convention) covers rape. The U.S. Department of State has unequivocally stated that rape already was a war crime or a grave breach under customary international law and the Geneva Conventions and could be prosecuted as such. This evolution in the approach of the ICRC and the United States is paralleled by the positions and draft charters submitted by several states to the UN Secretary-General pursuant to Security Council Resolution 808.

Keywords: international law; rape; war crimes; human rights; former Yugoslavia

Chapter.  3350 words. 

Subjects: Public International Law

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