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CRSV: Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990)

This case note documents the occurrence of sexual violence in violent conflict. It contains explicit mentions of different forms of sexual assault. Reader discretion is advised.

Background of the Conflict

The Lebanese Civil War took place from 1975 to 1990. It was a multifaceted armed conflict that culminated in an estimated 120,000 deaths (UNHRC 2006) and an exodus of nearly a million people from Lebanon (Byman and Pollack 2007). The conflict was deeply related to the demographics in the country: Sunni Muslims and Christians constituted the majority in the coastal cities, Shia Muslims in the South and Beqaa Valley in the East, and Druze and Christians in the mountainous areas. The Lebanese government had been run under the influence of elite Maronite Christians (Inhorne and Tremayne 2012). The French Mandate, which operated from 1920 to 1943, had reinforced the link between politics and religion, and favoured the Christian majority. In 1948 and 1967, there was a massive influx of Palestinians – which shifted the demography of the country in favour of the Muslim Population. This unfolded against the backdrop of the Cold War and the 1958 Lebanese crisis which was caused by political and religious tensions in the country and a US-led military intervention. The Cold War divided the Lebanese population, where the Christians picked the Western world and the Muslim, and pan-Arabist groups aligned with the Soviet-aligned Arab countries (Hirst 2010).

The war began on April 13, 1975, when Christian militiamen attacked a bus carrying Palestinians to a refugee camp (Fox 2022). Fighting began between the Maronite-Christian and Palestinian forces (from the PLO, mainly) in 1975. The leftist, Muslim, and pan-Arabist Lebanese formed groups aligning with Palestinians in Lebanon (Ranstorp 1997). Over the course of the war, alliances shifted unpredictably and rather quickly, and foreign powers like Israel and Syria were drawn in. With the Taif Agreement in 1989, the war moved towards its end, and by May 1991, all militias in Lebanon were dissolved, except Hezbollah (Ranstorp 1997).

Prevalence of Sexual Violence

For the first time in over three decades, details of the prevalence of sexual violence in Lebanon’s civil war were brought to light in 2022 through a report by Legal Action Worldwide (Law 2022). The report noted that several women and girls were gang-raped, electrocuted, and assaulted through forced nudity. On several occasions, fathers and brothers were forced to watch the women and girls in their families being raped.

Rape and sexual violence prevailed as part of systematic, targeted campaigns, rather than as opportunistic crimes (Fox 2022; LAW 2022). In most instances, the women and girls were killed after they were raped (LAW 2022). Reports of witnesses also suggest that women faced genital mutilation and assault (LAW 2022). Women and girls were subjected to rape with foreign objects including glass bottles (LAW 2022), and forced prostitution was rampant. Sexualized torture was carried out in detention centers, checkpoints, and on the streets during sieges and massacres (LAW 2022).

In 1991, an amnesty law was passed in Lebanon. It granted immunity for crimes committed against civilians during the war, and this has allowed a culture of impunity and lack of accountability to develop. Women and girls could thus never speak up about what happened, much less seek justice or redress.

Basis of the Use of sexual violence

Sexual violence was used to specifically persecute women and girls from communities opposing those of the perpetrators. Women and girls were targeted for their identity in terms of religion and/or ethnicity. In several instances, rape and sexual violence were used as a means of humiliating communities. In targeting the “enemy,” the intention was to shame the women and girls, and by extension, their countries. Rape and sexual violence were considered to bring shame on the family (Fox 2022; LAW 2022), and led to women and girls being ostracised if they spoke up or shared about their experiences. Rape and sexual violence was also used as a method of war to emasculate male members of the family (LAW 2022). Rape and sexual violence were also used to intimidate and torture women and girls into compliance for forced prostitution.


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