Deploying Justice: Strategic Accountability for Wartime Sexual Violence

Authored by: Meredith Loken, Milli Lake, Kate Cronin-Furman

Categories: Human Rights, Statebuilding, Violent Conflict
Sub-Categories: National Security Forces and Armed Groups, Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV), Sexual and Reproductive Health, Transitional Justice
Country: Sri Lanka
Region: South and Central Asia
Year: 2018
Citation: Loken, Meredith, Milli Lake, and Kate Cronin-Furman. "Deploying Justice: Strategic Accountability for Wartime Sexual Violence." OUP Academic. December 03, 2018.

Access the Resource:


Why do governments and militaries publicly condemn and prosecute particular forms of abuse? This article explores the Sri Lankan government’s decision to promote limited legal accountability for state-perpetrated rape committed in a country otherwise renowned for widespread impunity. We argue that rather than representing a turn against impunity, the symbolic stance against conflict-related sexual violence in a small number of high-profile cases served an explicitly politico-military agenda. The state deployed legal accountability in specific cases to garner political legitimacy among key domestic audiences. The Sri Lankan government drew on the symbolism of female victimhood to mobilize support at a time when support for military counterinsurgency was waning. We show that governments can uniquely instrumentalize sexual violence cases to establish moral authority and territorial legitimacy. Through an examination of the domestic legal response to state-perpetrated human rights abuses, we illustrate the many ways in which women’s bodies—and the law—can be mobilized in war to serve military ends.