Legitimizing Military Action Through “Rape-as-a-Weapon” Discourse in Libya

Critical Feminist Analysis

Authored by: Sarka Kolmasova and Katerina Krulisova

Categories: Human Rights, Violent Conflict
Sub-Categories: Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV)
Country: Libya
Region: Middle East and North Africa
Year: 2018
Citation: Kolmasova , Sarka, and Katerina Krulisova. “Legitimizing Military Action Through ‘Rape-as-a-Weapon’ Discourse in Libya.” Politics and Gender, vol. 15, no. 1, Mar. 2019, pp. 130–150.

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Contemporary discourse on sexual(ized) violence in armed conflicts represents a powerful source for legitimization of highly controversial military interventions. Recent gender-responsive security studies have called for enhanced protection of women and girls from widespread and systematic sexual(ized) violence. Yet military operations reproduce the Western masculine hegemony rather than providing inclusive and apolitical assistance to victims of sexual assault. The article aims to critically assess discourse on sexual violence in a case of military intervention in Libya initiated under the rubric of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P). The case study indicates a set of discursive strategies exercised by Western political representatives and nongovernmental organizations and even more expressively by the media to legitimize the military campaign. Typically, sexual(ized) violence is presented as a weapon of war, used by one of the conflicting parties without an adequate response of the state. This is followed by urgent calls for international action, willingly carried out by Western powers. The simplified narrative of civilized protectors versus savage aggressors must be challenged as it exploits the problem of sexual(ized) violence in order to legitimize politically motivated actions.