Monday, 15 January 2018

Women Perpetrators of Crimes against Humanity

Women perpetrators of crimes against humanity

In 2010, a judge in the United Kingdom denied refugee status to a Zimbabwean woman, known as SK. According to a report by David Gardner in the South African Mail Online, (“Woman who took part in violent attacks on farmers in Zimbabwe denied UK asylum” 16 September 2010) SK had admitted attacking white farmers and beating up ten black workers and their families; she beat one woman so badly that she thought the woman would die. But she said she had done so to prove her loyalty to Zimbabwe’s then dictator, Robert Mugabe, who was deposed in late 2017 by a military coup.

Zimbabwe had been ruled by Mugabe’s terrorist dictatorship since 2000. Mugabe encouraged “land invasions” of white-owned farms, driving almost all white farmers out of the country. This seriously undermined the country’s capacity to produce food, as the “liberated” lands were distributed to Mugabe’s family and cronies, many incapable of large-scale farming. About 1.5 million black farm workers and their families were also driven off the land. Meantime, in “operation drive out trash” another 1.4 million people were driven out of cities in 2005, losing their homes and livelihoods. Zimbabwe went from being a bread-basket of eastern African to dependency on the World Food Program. Many Zimbabweans had barely enough food for one meal a day.

Women members of the opposition to Mugabe, and women whose only crime was to be related to members of the opposition, were systematically raped and tortured, especially during the election period in 2008. Some women resorted to prostitution to support themselves because the economy was in such disarray as a result of Mugabe’s policies. Millions of women and their children had barely enough to eat. Hospitals and schools closed.

SK was a woman; we tend to think of women as victims of political violence, not its perpetrators. According to Gardner’s report, SK didn’t claim that she was entitled to any special treatment because she was a woman, but the judge seemed to think he should nevertheless comment on her gender. He compared SK to female Nazi concentration camp guards. While those women did not initiate the Nazi policy of genocide, they did willingly carry it out; they were not forced to be guards. Indeed, according to Daniel Jonah Goldhagen in his controversial 1997 book Hitler’s Willing Executioners, some of these women exceeded their orders at the end of the war, driving Jewish women prisoners to their deaths on forced marches even after they had been ordered to be less cruel, as the leaders of Germany were afraid of the consequences once the Allies took over.

But the judge did not have to look so far afield for examples of savage women to whom to compare SK. During the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, the Minister for Women’s Affairs encouraged her own son to rape Tutsi women. Three Rwandan nuns were convicted in Belgium for the crimes they committed in Rwanda.

These horrible instances contradict many feminists’ assumptions that women are more caring than men, more empathetic, far less likely to commit crimes against humanity or genocide than men. What is SK’s responsibility? She claimed she had to prove her loyalty to Mugabe, and that may be true: until a couple of months ago in Zimbabwe, if you were not for Mugabe, you were against him. But how far did she have to go?  Did she really have to participate in land invasions, or did she do so at least partly by choice? From 2000 to 2017 Zimbabwe was a free zone for people who hated whites.  Even if SK hated whites and wanted them driven out of Zimbabwe, what motivated her to beat up fellow black women?

We do not know from Gardner’s report if SK was an educated, upper-class Zimbabwean or a poor person. Nor do we know if that should matter. Should a person who is not educated be assumed not to be able to tell right from wrong, like some of the male killers in Rwanda who after their orgy of bloodshed regained their senses? While international courts do take into consideration whether people who commit crimes against humanity are leaders or followers, they do not let anyone off on the grounds that he was just following orders. Nor is lack of education an excuse, although it may be a mitigating factor.

The judge in the UK made the right decision. Women, like men, have to take responsibility for the crimes they commit. Otherwise, feminism simultaneously demands equality and undermines it by suggesting that women are less capable than men of morality and good judgment.  

Note:  I originally wrote this blog for another site in 2010, but decided it was worth updating a re-posting here. 
suggesting that women are less capable than men of morality and good judgment.  

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