Feminist Legal Studies

, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp 145–163 | Cite as

Rethinking ‘Rape as a Weapon of War’

  • Doris E. BussEmail author


One of the most significant shifts in current thinking on war and gender is the recognition that rape in wartime is not a simple by-product of war, but often a planned and targeted policy. For many feminists ‘rape as a weapon of war’ provides a way to articulate the systematic, pervasive, and orchestrated nature of wartime sexual violence that marks it as integral rather than incidental to war. This recognition of rape as a weapon of war has taken on legal significance at the Rwandan and Yugoslav Tribunals where rape has been prosecuted as a crime against humanity and genocide. In this paper, I examine how the Rwanda Tribunal’s record of judgments conceives of rape enacted as an instrument of the genocide. I consider in particular how the Tribunal’s conception of ‘rape as a weapon of war’ shapes what can be known about sexual violence and gender in the Rwandan genocide and what cannot, the categories of victims legally recognised and those that are not, and the questions pursued, and those foreclosed, about the patterns of violence before and during the genocide.


Genocide International law International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda Rape Sexual violence War 



My thanks to Christiane Wilke, Chiseche Mibenge, Diana Majury and the two anonymous reviewers for their very helpful comments and suggestions. My particular thanks to Erin Stevens for her excellent research assistance and comment on drafts of this article and Brittany Sheridan for her assistance. Earlier versions were presented at conferences at The Netherlands Defence Academy/Emory University and Keele University, UK and I benefited from comments and feedback at those events. Research for this paper was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and Carleton University.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Law DepartmentCarleton UniversityOttawaCanada

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