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Recap: 2014 Segal Lecture by Amb. Stephen J. Rapp

March 20, 2014

By Anna Pan C’14

Ambassador Stephen J. Rapp appeared at the Law School on Tuesday to deliver the annual Irving R. Segal Lecture in Trial Advocacy. During his speech “Overcoming the Challenges of Prosecuting Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict,” Rapp emphasized the prevalence of sexual violence during wartime.

Rapp, the Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues, leads the Office of Global Criminal Justice in the U.S. Department of State. He was appointed by President Obama in September 2009. For the last four and a half years, he has advised the Secretary of State on how to respond to mass atrocities.

A myth that Rapp wanted to debunk is the idea that wartime rape is an individual crime. He views it as “a crime carefully selected by leaders to make gains.” He cited the genocidal rapes of Bangladesh in 1971 as an example.

“Sexual violence has proven to be – sadly – an effective tactic to destroy base of support,” he said, mentioning the terrible rape and murder cases in the Democratic Republic of Congo. During his eleven trips there, he has talked to survivors as well as local officials.

Due to the premeditated nature of the rapes, Rapp said that command responsibility was important; each superior is responsible for the acts of his or her subordinates. Strict punishments that address past crimes send a warning to future instances. 

“By prosecuting the criminals and taking them out of society in a public way, we can start to deliver the message that there are consequences to both low-level soldiers as well as leaders,” Rapp said.

The Ambassador-at-Large also argued that forced marriage should be considered an inhumane act.

Rapp encouraged the audience to follow the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, which will be from June 10th through 13th in London.