Commentary: Rape Violates Women’s Human Rights By NANCY DELANEY

Tuesday August 09, 2005

The Peace and Justice Commission has long been a beacon for believers in human rights and equality. It became a place where Berkeley citizens explored ways to creatively exercise humanitarian concerns. It was a place to share information and develop guidelines to become a more inclusive and democratic people. The Commission would gather information and then advise City Council how to implement. Thus, we, as citizens, could consider what makes Peace and what makes Justice in ways that City Council didn’t have time to do. It helped us to grow awareness of ourselves as part of the human family. It became the conscience of Berkeley.  

I first noticed something amiss March 7, the eve of International Women’s Day. That night Ann Fagan Ginger sought endorsement for her new well-documented book: Challenging U.S. Human Rights Violations Since 9/11. She hoped to send a copy to the United Nations with endorsements of Berkeley’s Peace and Justice Commission and City Council. Rabbi Litwin opposed the Peace and Justice endorsement of the book, giving as her reason: the book’s inclusion of rape of women in the military as a human rights violation. Rabbi Litwin said she didn’t consider rape a human rights violation so she couldn’t endorse the book. I wrote to the Daily Planet to express my surprise that a woman (and a rabbi at that) on the commission would deny that rape violated human rights of women in the military. Rabbi Litwin responded that she had meant that rape of women in the military was a criminal matter for military courts, not a human rights problem. 

To me, even women in the military have a basic human right not to be raped. Ginger’s book, the Peace and Justice Commission, and the United Nations all serve our needs to cultivate our abilities to think about what we have in common … our common humanity, despite our differences, and our basic equal rights that go with that humanity we have in common. Rabbi Litwin’s thoughts went first to military judges, not to the common inclusive concern of all women. Often women in the military are there because of poverty. Often rape in the military is not prosecuted. The abusiveness of soldiers in the military can go unchecked. Only a higher court, a more inclusive consideration, can guarantee that these women’s rights will be considered. Ginger’s book was calling attention to this need among many needs. In fact, her book is a stellar example of humanitarian consideration that the Peace and Justice Commission might celebrate.  

Here were thoughts that grow justice in the world and peace in the lives of individuals. Military solutions are too often resorted to these days. Human solutions have to be cultivated. The Peace and Justice Commission is there to grow human solutions. Ginger offered fuel for human solutions. Rabbi Litwin dismissed the value of all the other U.S. human rights violations being listed in Ginger’s book, because of the inclusion of rape of military women. Is she serious? The Nuremberg Principles protect the human right of all women around the world to be free from rape. Was she afraid to acknowledge all the other human rights violations listed in Ginger’s book? I had to wonder if the person who appointed Rabbi Litwin to the Peace and Justice Commission might be able to find someone who actually believes in the purpose of the commission. Now, I hear there are several new appointees who may not value the goals of Peace and Justice. It was our jewel. When places where people seek human solutions are compromised, military solutions are not far behind. That’s not what I want. 


Nancy Delaney is a Berkeley activist.