Witness to Rape: The Limits and Potential of International War Crimes Trials for Victims of Wartime Sexual Violence


Henry, Nicola. 2009. “Witness to Rape: The Limits and Potential of International War Crimes Trials for Victims of Wartime Sexual Violence.” International Journal of Transitional Justice 3 (1): 114–34. doi:10.1093/ijtj/ijn036.

Author: Nicola Henry


Despite the proliferation of trauma and memory research in recent years, we know very little about the contribution of transitional justice mechanisms to psychological healing and societal reconciliation in the aftermath of genocide, armed conflict and politicized violence. Many scholars in this area have argued that the disclosure of traumatic experiences is beneficial to the psychological recovery process for survivors of gross human rights violations. This article critically examines this therapeutic assumption within a transitional justice paradigm. The article explores the potentials and limitations of international war crimes trials for victims of wartime sexual violence, focusing specifically on the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). The article provides a theoretical framework for analyzing the significance of testimony at international war crimes trials and raises some critical questions related to the psychological impact of trials. It is argued that due to the sheer diversity and heterogeneity of wartime rape victims, the experience of giving testimony is likely to be mixed: while some victims may suffer under the constraints of legal process, under the right circumstances, war crimes trials may help others to make sense of their suffering.

Topics: Armed Conflict, Gender, Women, Health, Trauma, Justice, International Tribunals & Special Courts, Transitional Justice, Sexual Violence, Rape Regions: Europe, Balkans Countries: Yugoslavia (former)

Year: 2008

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