Rape as a Tactic of Terror: Holding the Islamic State Accountable (Unpublished Draft on File with Author)

4 Pages Posted: 28 Apr 2017 Last revised: 28 Sep 2019

Date Written: April 28, 2017


Sexual violence is an essential part of the political economy of the self-proclaimed Islamic State. The terrorist group uses rape, sexual slavery, and other forms of sexual violence for recruitment; to terrorize communities into compliance and displace them from strategic areas; to torture and extract intelligence; to compel conversion and indoctrination through forced marriage; and to generate revenue through sex trafficking, slave trade, and ransoms. Sexual violence during armed conflict can violate the law of war and in some cases can amount to torture. Under the doctrine of command responsibility, leaders can be prosecuted for war crimes when they knew or should have known that their subordinates were committing such crimes and failed to take adequate steps to prevent the crimes or punish those responsible.

Holding the Islamic State accountable for sexual violence, particularly the systematic rape of women and girls from the Yazidi religious minority, would help disrupt the terrorist organization’s authority and resources, but finding a court with jurisdiction over these crimes is a challenge. Iraq has not joined the International Criminal Court (ICC), the Islamic State is not a recognized state, and domestic courts face obstacles in addressing these complex transnational crimes. Despite the difficulties, the ICC offers the most promising venue to investigate and try these cases, secure justice and reparations for the victims, punish the perpetrators, and deter future crimes.

A version of this paper (under the same title) was published at on Just Security on August 11, 2017.

Suggested Citation

Powell, Catherine, Rape as a Tactic of Terror: Holding the Islamic State Accountable (Unpublished Draft on File with Author) (April 28, 2017). Fordham Law Legal Studies Research Paper. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2960331 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2960331

Catherine Powell (Contact Author)

Fordham University School of Law ( email )

150 West 62nd Street
New York, NY 10023
United States

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