Ethnicity and Gender in Modern Conflicts Rwanda Term Paper

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Ethnicity and Gender in Modern Conflicts


Modern conflicts are becoming more and more inclusive from all points-of-view. They entangle all types of groups, regardless of their combatant or non-combatant status. They include not only men with specific training, but also affect women, children, disadvantaged groups. The means of war are no longer the ones traditional but rather include terrorist actions, subversive means of attaining power. Since the Second World War, the techniques, the definitions of combatant forces, as well as the means of waging war have dramatically changed, reason for which the outcomes are more and more unpredictable.

Since the end of the Clod War and until the beginning of the 21st century, more than 100 conflicts took place around the world (Nye, 2005). Almost all of them were intra-state conflicts that are often defined as ethnic wars, "wars in which the sides define themselves, partially through cultural differences such as language, religion or similar. An ethnic group implies a certain name that shares the same historical symbols and memories" (Nye, 2005).

Another aspect that has become increasingly relevant in the way in which war is waged is gender (Eriksen, 2002). Given the dynamic nature of war, women are no longer perceived as not part of the combatant forces or as protected groups. Both gender and ethnic belonging were clearly challenged during the genocide in Rwanda in 1994.

The rational of the research is to underline the importance of ethnicity and gender in modern day war waging, with a case study on the Rwandan genocide. Indeed, the genocide is the extreme form of war especially given the cruelty of acts taking place over a short period of time. Although such acts of violence are not as common as traditional war, they are essential for pointing out that the means of war have dramatically changed and affect all groups, whether they are constructed on gender or on ethnicity.

The issue of ethnic differences is not something new for the international law. In 1948, the genocide was defined on the lines of ethnic, religious, national groups. More precisely, the genocide is "the physical destruction of national, ethnic, racial, and religious groups, in whole or in part" (Shelton, 2005, p13). Therefore, this definition takes into account the differences between various groups as a reason for a murderous act in which the discriminatory behavior is taken to the extreme by the government in the respective country. However, until the 20th century these actions were not legally considered to be a crime because according to the internal law of the state the government had a legitimate mandate from the people.

The year 1948 was a crucial point concerning genocide and the legislation in this sense. The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide drew the lines for a proper definition of the act of genocide by pointing out that there must be "two elements of the crime of genocide: the mental element, meaning the "intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such," and the physical element which includes five acts described in sections a, b, c, d and e." (Preventing Genocide International, 2008) this moment is important for its wider context as well, aside from the fact that it pointed out the main elements of the act of genocide.

The issue of genocide and the elements it entangles are related through a situation in which sociology is considered. More precisely, studies have pointed out the fact that the actions that determine the genocide have in parts sociological considerations. In this sense, "the original conception of 'genocide' was that of the waging of war by a state in order to destroy nations" (Freeman, 1995). In the 21st century context, the term "nation" can be associated with ethnic groups.

This consideration of the issue is related at the time of its creation, after the Second World War to the Nazis Holocaust and the millions of Jews that have been killed during and after the Second World War. In the vision of Lemkin, the issue of genocide refers in fact to the most dramatic stand of unjust war, the most extreme perspective. More precisely, in the years during the World War and immediately following it "genocide was the extreme form of unjust war, the war of national extermination" (Freeman, 1995). Therefore, it can be said that from the very beginning there was the issue of the extermination of the population regardless of the individuals that made up the respective groups. It was in fact a matter of eradicating the elements that characterized the race, nationality, and ethnicity.

The humanitarian crisis that was the Rwandan genocide is still perceived today as one of the most terrifying experiences of the human kind. The differences between the Hutus and the Tutsis that were considered to have been the backbone of the conflict were not so much of ethnic nature but rather self created (. Nye points out "there were differences of social status between the Tutsi population, which had migrated centuries before in an area based on cattle breeding and the more numerous population of the Hutu engaged in agriculture. In time, mixed marriages and social changes had minimized the differences, but these were again imposed during the colonial period." (Nye, 2005) Thus, many consider that ethnic conflict was the result of colonialist policy and "the incapacity of the governments to mediate the conflicts caused by the collapse of the empires." (Nye, 2005)

The Rwandan case is quite relevant in this sense. However, the ethnic confrontations led to a disastrous experience which caused one of the most tragic events in the history of the human kind. The historical background is strictly related to the Belgian presence in the country as the colonial power. More precisely, the historical context was determined by a series of factors. In this sense, "Rwanda was very poor, and in the years just before the genocide it had become poorer. Some 90% of the population lived off the land, and with significant population growth in recent decades most farmers lacked sufficient land to provide for themselves and their families. In the late 1980s economic conditions worsened because of drought, a sharp drop in world market prices for coffee and tea (the export crops that provided the major sources of foreign exchange), and limits on government spending imposed by international financial institutions" (Human Rights Watch, 2006). This was the economic context, which determined to a certain extent the evolution of the clash between the rival powers.

The existence of two or more different ethnic groups does not necessarily lead to an ethnic war or genocide. There must be underlining factors as well as historical tensions between such groups. (Nye, 2005). From this point-of-view, the genocide that took place in Kosovo is similar in nature, although with a smaller number of casualties. Yet, the existence of tensions between the groups often sets the foundations for an eventual conflict, of different scale.

Gender has played an important role in wars particularly because women were considered the weaker link in a society. Along with children and the old population, women were protected during wars. This also is connected to the fact that women were viewed as the bearers of the next generations (Gourevitch, 1999). It is considered that the history of the genocide dates long before the 20th century (Shelton, 2005,xi ). In this sense, mass killings and extermination of groups have occurred, according to analysts even before, during conflict situations. In this sense, "war was a means to gain wealth through looting and acquisition of territory. Rape, pillage, and destruction were the common features of armed conflict, with women and children considered a form of property to be taken along with works of art and other valuables" (Shelton, 2005,…

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