Aug 09 2009

Why limit UN rape inquiry to Africa

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 12:37 PM

The head of the United Nations has made a brave and timely call for a formal inquiry into rape as a tool of war in Africa. Why not broaden the inquiry to the entire world? To limit the investigation of rape to Africa reinforces the corrosive belief that Africans — and especially African men — are engaged in a special kind of evil that has no parallel or precedent elsewhere in the world. Abuse of women is a global problem — and has a long history in both Europe and Asia. In Korea, home of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Japanese visitors physically exploited women during Japan’s occupation of Korea in the last century. More recently, in the former Yugoslavia, rape was also a tool of terror and civil war. While it may be true that today rape in Africa as a tool of war occurs more frequently than anywhere else in the world, this still begs the question of the appropriate international response. Is it to once again send the message that special horrors occur only in Africa? To do so is to repeat the old canard that has informed thinking about Africa since Joseph Conrad wrote his novella, “the Heart of Darkness.” In justly identifying moral failures in Africa — and holding those who cause them responsible — we should not promote the wrongheaded notion of African “exceptionalism” in moral matters. To me, the dubious notion that Africa spawns special moral failures skates too closely to the argument of the 19th century occupiers of Africa who insisted that the mental and moral inferiority of Africans demanded that they could not judge themselves and manage their own affairs — and that Europeans must do so for them. Today, some of the same arguments are made about why Africans cannot be trusted to discipline the criminals among them. Rape is a crime that Africans must address fully and energetically. They need the world’s help to do so in some cases. But in giving Africans help to identify and criminalize the rapists among them, the world ought to introduce the lessons from other places and other times. No one part of the world has a monopoly on the abuse of women; and intelligent, compassionate responses to the persistence of rape as a tool of war can come from anywhere.

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