The story is back! [See my blog below, dated 2 May]. More charges that Col. Gaddafi is distributing Viagra to soldiers in order to encourage mass rape. This time, we have the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno Ocampo, making the claim. He asserted that Gaddafi is buying containers of the drug to enhance the possibility of mass rape. “[Viagra is] like a machete,” Ocampo said. “It’s new. Viagra is a tool of massive rape.”
At this stage, it is rather impossible to judge the veracity of the charges. Pfizer wasn’t too pleased. They addressed the issue back in May, and have trotted out the same line again.
That highlights the simple fact that these sorts of allegations have consequences. A major pharmaceutical worries about its pocketbook and the ICC wades into new territory, where a drug that helps men produce and maintain an erection (but, notably, does not increase sexual drive) is likened to the instruments of Rwandan genocide. I’m not so concerned about Pfizer or Ocampo. I’m concerned about people, and what if means to them to live in fear. And I’m concerned for the deterrent power of treating rape in war as a crime.
Rape being used as a weapon of war is probably as old as dirt. It destroys the enemy community from within; a most visceral communication of dominance. Rape being officially recognized as a weapon of war, though, is in its relative infancy. Really, only in the late Nineties, for example with the 1998 decision in the Akayesu case before the Int’l Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, finding that mass rape constituted a form of genocide, or its codification as a crime against humanity in the statutes defining the ICC (becoming law in 2002).
Legalities being what they are, many people still see rape as inevitable in war, like muddy boots or trampled fields. After all, soldiers are men, and men deprived of female companionship fall prey to their own pent up desires. Even more shocking is when women themselves feel this way, that rape is a bad but without the conviction that it is wrong. Rapists akin to locusts rather than criminals.
My concern today is with the future course of the transformation of rape in war from collateral damage to crime. If charges of mass rape become part of conflict’s landscape, if the propaganda machines of the two sides routinely cry systematic rape, for how much longer will the charge retain its force? How long before falsified charges of rape give credence to future denials? To brutal dictators shrugging rape off as the self-serving bleats of politicians like Ocampo and Rice? So while hoping that nobody has been raped at all, I also have to hope that Ocampo’s charges are based on actual evidence, because victims of rape will be the big losers if the ICC has been chasing a ghost of WMD.