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Serbs Used Rape as a Weapon of War in Bosnia

Institute for the Research of Genocide Canada
Published: May 26, 2011  

Serbs Used Rape as a Weapon of War in Bosnia

It is a crime that is perpetrated against the most vulnerable members of the world’s most broken societies – one that destroys the lives of its victims and rips apart the fabric of communities. Sexual assault is increasingly being used as a weapon of warfare, especially in clashes that are tribal or ethnic in nature. For that reason, Jody Williams decided it is time the issue was confronted head on. “There has always been rape in war, yes,” says Ms. Williams, the Nobel Peace Prize winner for her work to eradicate land mines. “But using it specifically as a tactic of war seems relatively new and on the scale that we’re seeing it in the Congo, in Darfur, Rwanda, Bosnia, Burma.”Ms. Williams, an American, was joined in Montebello, Que., on Tuesday by two other female Nobel peace laureates – Mairead Corrigan Maguire of Ireland and Shirin Ebadi of Iran – to talk about rape in conflict zones. They invited more than 100 women from around the world to join them, many of whom have experienced sexual violence. “It’s something we all feel uncomfortable talking about,” Ms. Maguire said. “But we really have to face this as perhaps the worst form of violence next to actually killing someone.”

The Bosnian Genocide was characterized by the policy of systematic rapes of Bosniak women and girls, horrific and prolonged siege and shelling of Bosniak cities, starvation and terrorization of Bosniak population in the besieged enclaves and targeted destruction of Bosniak culture and history. It is clear who the aggressor and who the victim was; To put things into perspective: During the war, not even one Serb city was under the siege by Bosniak forces; in fact, majority of Serb civilian casualties were killed by the Serbian army commanded by Gen. Ratko Mladic in the process of sniping and shelling multiethnic Bosnian cities like Sarajevo and Tuzla. Serb people and Serb culture were not deliberately targeted for ethnic cleansing, rape, siege, shelling, and destruction in Bosnia; it was the Serb project of “Greater Serbia”, modeled on a Nazi policy of ethnic purification, that inflicted tremendous suffering on the Bosniak people between 1992 and 1995.

Bosniak Girl Describes Night of Terror
By Roy Gutman

Dressed in jungle fatigues and armed with knives and guns, the guards scoured the dark, crowded room with their flashlights, searching for girls to abduct for the night. Then one of them noticed 16-year-old S.T.

“Get up,” he ordered, rifle in hand.

The teenager was led at gunpoint with three other girls to a covered green truck, where she was raped three times. She spoke on condition that she not be identified.
The triple rape of the Muslim teenager in June was only one among thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of assaults that officials of Bosnia-Herzegovina fear have been carried out against Bosniak and Croatian women in the Serbian prison camps of northern Bosnia.

Reports of rape have been so extensive that some analysts think it is systematic. Sevko Omerbasic, leader of the Muslim community in Croatia and Slovenia, who is in direct touch with hundreds of refugees a week, has reached that conclusion. “There is more and more evidence that all the young women have been raped,” he told Newsday.

There are an astonishing number of reports of gang rapes of girls just above the age of puberty. And unlike S.T., who was released from the Trnopolje camp in late June, thousands of rape victims may remain in these prisons set up in schools and factories.

The Bosnian government estimated Friday that 200,000 people, mostly women, children and the elderly, are being held. Officials said they know of at least one or more camps reserved entirely for women and children, but they said that there is no way to estimate how many have been raped.

Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic denied that there are any detention camps for civilians in Bosnia and added that no women or children were detained at any location. Asked about the reports of systematic rape, he told Newsday: “There are six places in Sarajevo alone where they (the Muslims) are raping Serb women. We Serbs know what is going on.” [note: Karadzic is an outspoken Serbian propagandist comparable to Joseph Goebbels]

S.T.’s kidnaping and rape was a fairly speechless affair. The three guards were clean-shaven, S.T. said. Each had a “four S’s” tattoo on his hand, initials of the slogan under which the Serb military has committed mayhem in Bosnia: “Only solidarity saves the Serbs.”

The three soldiers and the four girls climbed into the back of the military truck, which came with a driver, and they stopped outside a gas station a few miles from the camp. S.T. was crying, and the guards left her on the truck. The other three girls, who were older, were led into a house that had once belonged to a prominent Bosniak in the town and now served as a brothel for camp guards.

One soldier who had remained behind ordered S.T. to disrobe and lie down on the floor of the truck. He left his clothes on and forced her to have intercourse. When the first soldier was satisfied, he fetched his friend. Finally, the third one took his turn.

“What are you doing?” S.T. recalled asking the last of the rapists.

“That’s what your people are doing to us, as well,” he said in reply.

He thought a minute and said, “I’ll get you out of here.” Then he told her to get dressed. Before driving off, he called out to his buddies, “I’m going to get some more.” Then he drove her back to the crowded school at the Trnopolje camp and left her there.

He searched the room with his flashlight for other women, and the process began all over again. It was the second of three visitations that night.

In a way, S.T. was lucky. The other girls remained inside the brothel, and one of them told S.T. she had been raped by 12 men. The soldiers brought them back about 3:30 a.m.

Judge: Serbs Used Rape as a Weapon of War in Bosnia
By Marjorie Miller

The U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague convicted three former Bosnian Serb commanders of rape and torture Thursday in the first international trial to focus exclusively on wartime sexual violence.

The three received sentences ranging from 12 to 28 years for enslaving Bosniak women and girls in “rape camps” during the Bosnian war, after Serbian forces overran the southeastern town of Foca in April 1992.

The sexual violence was deemed to be part of a widespread attack on a civilian population during the 1992-95 war in Bosnia-Herzegovina and was termed a crime against humanity – a charge second only to genocide.

“Rape was used by members of the Bosnian Serb armed forces as an instrument of terror,” presiding Judge Florence Mumba said as she delivered the verdict. “The three accused are not ordinary soldiers whose morals were merely loosened by the hardships of war…. They thrived in the dark atmosphere of the dehumanization of those believed to be enemies.”

For such abuses, the court sentenced 40-year-old Dragoljub Kunarac to 28 years in prison, 39-year-old Radomir Kovac to 20 years and Zoran Vukovic, also 39, to 12 years.

In London, the rights group Amnesty International applauded the verdict and said it set a precedent.

“This verdict is a significant step for women’s human rights — sexual enslavement in armed conflict is now legally acknowledged as a crime against humanity, and perpetrators can and must be held to account,” the group said in a prepared statement.

The defendants were charged with more than 30 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including rape, torture, enslavement and outrages upon personal dignity. The crimes carry maximum penalties of life in prison.

During the 11-month trial, the court heard testimony from 63 witnesses, including the horrifying accounts of 16 victims held for months in sexual slavery and subjected to multiple gang rapes.

The victims, some of whom were 12 and 13 years old at the time of their abuse, were identified by numbers rather than names as they testified. Their voices were scrambled and their faces hidden to avoid further shame in their conservative Muslim communities. Some sobbed as they recalled their nightmares, but they confronted their attackers in court.

When Serbian forces occupied Foca, they separated Bosniak men and women into separate camps, detaining men in a local prison and women in a sports hall and various hotels and houses. The victims told how soldiers arrived at their detention centers in groups of three to five and selected their prey.

“They would point their finger: ‘You, you and you,’ ” Witness No. 50 told the court in March. Just 16 at the time of her confinement, she was raped so often during two months of terror, she said, that she lost count.

One woman, identified as Witness No. 75, said she was raped for three hours by 15 men. Two teenage girls said they were held for months by one of the defendants as personal sex slaves before each was sold for 500 German marks (about $330 then) to soldiers from the Yugoslav republic of Montenegro.

Kunarac commanded a reconnaissance unit of the Bosnian Serb army, while Kovac and Vukovic were paramilitary leaders, according to the prosecution. The three admitted that they participated in the attack on the town but denied the charges against them.

“I remember he was very forceful. He wanted to hurt me,” one witness said, referring to Kunarac. “But he could never hurt me as much as my soul was hurting me.”
The Hague tribunal was established by the U.N. Security Council in 1993 to go after the alleged architects of the Bosnian war’s bloody “ethnic cleansing” campaigns, including the former Bosnian Serb president, Radovan Karadzic, and his military chief, Gen. Ratko Mladic. Both remain at large.

One European Union study estimated that 20,000 women, most of them Bosniaks, were assaulted by Bosnian Serbs during the first year alone. The same year, a U.N. commission concluded that a “systematic rape policy” was being implemented by the Bosnian Serbs.

Thursday’s verdict on wartime rape contrasts with that of the tribunals set up in Nuremberg and Tokyo after World War II, and the reluctance of the Japanese government for decades to recognize the existence of so-called “comfort women” who were forced to serve their soldiers sexually.

At the Rwanda war crimes tribunal, rape has figured as part of a genocide case against a former mayor who was sentenced in October 1998 for his role in his country’s 1994 genocide.

“What sets this apart is that this is a case in which we have a large rape camp organization,” said lead prosecutor Dirk Ryneveld. “This is the first case of sexual enslavement and the only one with sexual assaults and no murders.”

Kunarac and Kovac, who received the longest sentences, kept young women and girls at the quarters as domestic servants and sex slaves. Kunarac organized the transfer of women to other soldiers, while Kovac raped, beat and subsequently sold his charges, including a 12-year-old girl [Almira Bektovic].

“You abused and ravaged Muslim women because of their ethnicity, and from among their number you picked whomsoever you fancied,” Mumba, the presiding judge, told Kunarac.

When his 28-year sentence was announced, Kunarac flinched and looked down.

Regan Ralph, director of the women’s rights division of the group Human Rights Watch, lauded the verdict and said the definition of sexual enslavement as a crime against humanity will serve as the basis to prosecute others who torture women around the world.

But she said she was disappointed that the court held that Kunarac did not have command responsibility for the rapes and sexual assaults committed by soldiers who were arguably under his command.

The tribunal said the prosecution had failed to show that the soldiers were under Kunarac’s control at the time they committed the crimes.
Sexual Enslavement

With the rape convictions of three Bosnian Serbs, a U.N. tribunal established sexual enslavement as a crime against humanity.

The panel identified what it said were “elements of particular relevance for the crime of enslavement” relating to sexual assault. They include:
* Detention in poor living conditions and lack of food.
* The victims having “to do everything they were ordered to do, including the cooking and household chores.”
* Exclusive control, with victims at the constant disposal of the rapists.
* Offering the victims to others for sexual abuse in exchange for payment.
* Mistreatment, such as beating and slapping.
* Effective denial of the victims’ control over their own lives.

Institute for the Research of Genocide Canada