Redeeming Rape: Berlin 1945 and the Making of Modern International Criminal Law

by Heidi Matthews

Winner, Audre Rapoport Prize for Scholarship on Gender and Human Rights (2013)

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Since the end of the Cold War, feminist scholars and activists have succeeded in making rape and other sexual violence crimes a top priority on the international criminal law agenda. Feminists deployed a specific narrative about the inadequacy of the post-World War II international tribunals’ approach to sex crimes in order to support their ‘anti-impunity’ project. This narrative should be understood as part of the larger in bello turn in international criminal law. In light of critical feminist histories of women’s experience of the mass rape perpetrated by Soviet forces against German women in 1945, this Article contests the feminist failure narrative. I argue instead that it would have been reasonable for many German women to have rejected the prosecution of their rapes as part of the production of national narratives of German victimization. The feminist failure narrative should be contested on the ground that it contributes to the depoliticization of international criminal law. Examining wartime sexual violence in the context of the Walzerian “supreme emergency” model, the Article suggests a framework for re-politicizing international rape law.

Project & Publications Type: Audre Rapoport Prize for Scholarship on Gender and Human Rights