United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Practice Relating to Rule 93. Rape and Other Forms of Sexual Violence
The UK Military Manual (1958) states: “Women must be specially protected against any attack on their honour, in particular against rape, enforced prostitution or any form of indecent assault.” According to the manual, the rule also applies in occupied territories. The manual further specifies that forcing women into prostitution, even if it is not considered as a grave breach of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, qualifies as a war crime.
The UK LOAC Pamphlet (1981) provides: “The question of honour of women is specific; there must be no rape, no enforced prostitution and no indecent assault.”
The UK LOAC Manual (2004) states in its chapter on the protection of civilians in the hands of a party to the conflict:
The following acts are prohibited “at any time and in any place whatsoever”:
b. outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment, enforced prostitution and any form of indecent assault.
The manual further states: “Women must be accorded ‘special respect and shall be protected in particular against rape, forced prostitution and any other form of indecent assault’.”
Furthermore, the manual states: “Children are to be respected and protected, especially against indecent assault.”
In its chapter on internal armed conflict, the manual restates the provisions of common Article 3 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions:
Under the terms of Common Article 3, the parties to a non-international armed conflict occurring in the territory of a party to the Conventions are obliged to apply “as a minimum”, the following provisions:
(1) Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.
To this end, the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons:
(c) outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment.
In the same chapter, the manual prohibits
“… rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, forced sterilization, and any other form of sexual violence also constituting a serious violation of” Common Article 3 [of the 1949 Geneva Conventions].
Under the UK ICC Act (2001), it is a punishable offence to commit genocide as defined in Article 6(d) of the 1998 ICC Statute, a crime against humanity as defined in Article 7(1)(g) of the Statute, and a war crime as defined in Article 8(2)(b)(xxii) and (e)(vi) of the Statute.
In 1993, during a debate in the House of Lords in 1993, the UK Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, stated: “Rape probably already comes within the definition of a war crime.”
In 1994, in a briefing note on Britain’s peacemaking role in the former Yugoslavia, the UK Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, in reply to the question as to whether he considered rape as a war crime, stated:
In international armed conflicts, a war crime can be defined as any serious violation of the laws and customs of war, including grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions. Article 27 of the Fourth Geneva Convention specifically prohibits rape; and Article 3, which applies to non-international armed conflicts and which is common to all four Conventions, refers to “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment”. This would clearly include rape.
In 2003, in reply to a written question in the House of Lords, the UK Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, wrote:
The Government deplore the war crimes committed during the Balkans conflict in the early 1990s, including the rape of women and girls in Bosnia.
We are sympathetic to any proposal to improve the situation of the victims of these crimes, but it is not clear that awarding civilian war victim status would be the most effective means of ensuring support for these women. What is required is recognition of their suffering as victims of rape, conviction of the perpetrators and provision of appropriate support for these women and their children.
Through the work of the Department for International Development, and support for UNICEF and local NGOs, the Government support projects to raise awareness of rape as a war crime. We strongly support the work of the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia, which is tasked with bringing to trial those suspected of war crimes and crimes against humanity during the Balkans conflict, including rape. It has convicted a number of individuals of this crime. With our partners in the EU, we apply concerted pressure to all governments in the region for greater co-operation with ICTY, particularly in the handover and prosecution of indictees.
The best way to secure financial support for these women and their children is through successful convictions in the Bosnian courts, which can award compensation to the victims of rape. Together with our EU partners, we are working hard to strengthen the capacity of the Bosnian judicial system, so that it can prosecute the perpetrators of these crimes more effectively and efficiently, and provide sustainable support to the victims.
The UK Government Strategy on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict (2010) states: “IHL requires parties to a conflict to respect and protect civilians. … [C]ivilians must not be … subjected to acts of violence such as … forms of ill-treatment (including sexual violence)”.
In 2010, in its closing submissions to the public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of Baha Mousa and the treatment of those detained with him by UK armed forces in Iraq in 2003, the UK Ministry of Defence stated regarding common Article 3 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions: “On its face this protection is restricted to armed conflicts not of an international character. However, it is understood to apply in all forms of armed conflict as part of customary international law to set out the irreducible minimum standard.”