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date: 16 May 2021

Abstract and Keywords

Although sexual violence during mass atrocities has become formally criminalized under international law, relatively few cases referred to international or specialized courts have led to prosecution. This essay introduces the term State rape to call attention to State responsibility for widespread and systematic sexual violence as a particular class of atrocities. The term distinguishes sexual violence perpetrated by State or State-linked actors as a form of torture, a weapon of war, and an instrument of genocide. This new terminology suggests alternative grounds for establishing State liability for these crimes on the basis of either direct involvement or grave negligence. The essay discusses two case studies—Darfur and pre-invasion Iraq—to demonstrate application of the term to different types of regimes. It examines victims’ experiences collected through interviews and victimization surveys. Finally, it discusses the use of social science research methods to assess patterns of mass atrocities in other conflicts.

Keywords: genocide, mass atrocities, rape, sexual violence, State responsibility; Atrocities Documentation Survey, Iraq History Project

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