by Amanda Coolidge
Today I rise with billions worldwide to bring justice to survivors.
I am rising for the hundreds of thousands of women and girls – some as young as eleven- who are victims of war rape. I am rising to raise awareness about the use of systematic rape as a destructive and heinous tool of war and ethnic cleansing, currently being implemented in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria, Egypt and Burma. I am also rising to urge everyone to join me in taking action to reduce the suffering immediately by demanding that President Obama stand up for these girls and women and provide them with access to comprehensive medical care, including the option of abortion, in accordance with the Geneva Conventions.
Rape is classified as a war crime under Article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention; it is considered “a crime against humanity” and an “instrument of genocide.” Rape as a tool of war is systematic: it’s too tactical to be incidental. It happens in two ways; sometimes, a woman or girl is assaulted with an object, such as a rifle or a stick, which causes a fistula; other times, she is forced into intercourse and may become pregnant. Both lead to trauma, insurmountable emotional and physical complications, as well as a girl or woman’s isolation from her family and community.
The United States government can help alleviate some of the suffering from this atrocious practice by ensuring that US humanitarian aid is provided in accordance with Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions – which would grant all women and girls raped in conflict zones access to comprehensive medical treatment, including the option of abortion. Common Article 3 requires that the “wounded and sick” in armed conflict be provided medical treatment based on their condition, without discrimination based on sex. This requires the option of abortion care for victims of war rape. Unfortunately, abortion is currently not an option for these victims because of a misinterpretation of the Helms Amendment, meaning that girls and women who become pregnant by being raped in wartime are left with no opportunity for real medical care.
According to the Global Justice Center:
up to 80 percent of rape victims in armed conflicts are girls under age 18, with girls as young as eleven becoming pregnant…. Girls aged 15-19 are twice as likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth, and girls under 15 are five times more likely to die, as compared with women aged 20 or older.
I am rising today to demand that President Obama sign an Executive Order to ensure that US humanitarian aid in conflict zones is used to save lives, which includes providing the option of safe abortion care to girls and women who have been on the receiving end of a systematic campaign of rape and ethnic cleansing in war.
Our role should be to end suffering, not prolong it.