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Punctuated Silence: The International Response to Wartime Sexual Violence Open Access

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Why does the international community of states, international organizations (IOs), and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) respond to wartime sexual violence now, when it was unable or unwilling to do so in the past? Building on concepts central to constructivist International Relations (IR), security studies, and foreign policy decision-making, my dissertation examines the political mechanisms that have driven states, IOs, and NGOs to condemn wartime sexual violence in the past two decades. I conclude that the dominant frame through which the international community views wartime sexual violence determines the extent to which the issue receives attention; because international actors now view sexual violence as a weapon or tactic of war they are more willing and able to condemn its use even when an occurrence of wartime sexual violence does not directly threaten their interests. When it is perceived as a weapon of war sexual violence is no longer considered a `women's issue' or an inevitable by-product of armed conflict, but an unambiguous peace and security issue that states and organizations have an obligation to prevent and mitigate. The dissertation also examines the role of three facilitative political conditions that have supported the `weapon of war' frame: the use of salient historical analogies to equate current cases of wartime sexual violence with past cases; women's transnational mobilization in the mid-1990s; and advocates' ability to leverage political influence to generate international support for the issue.I explore five formative international responses to wartime sexual violence to trace the evolution of the `weapon of war' frame: the creation of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia; the creation of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda; the United States response to sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; the adoption of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1820; and the United Kingdom's Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative. The history of international political silence surrounding wartime sexual violence makes the emergence of efforts by states, NGOs, and IOs to recognize, condemn, and mitigate its use intuitively puzzling. My research on the political mechanisms through which activists and policymakers successfully framed sexual violence as a weapon of war and a security issue contributes to the IR literature by positing a larger role for states in transnational advocacy efforts, questioning the prominence of justificatory motivations for state condemnation of atrocities, and contending that scholars ought to consider sexual violence a phenomenon of interest in research on international relations.

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