Bosnian Muslim Women Repeatedly Raped in the Bosnian Genocide
“A 15-year-old Bosniak [Muslim] girl said she and other women were raped by 19 Bosnian Serb soldiers. She escaped through a window and ran more than four miles through the woods to Bosnian government lines. Her brother’s nose and ears were cut off when he refused to rape their mother, the girl told aid workers.”
ZENICA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) – The girl shut her eyes but couldn’t block out the laughter of the Bosnian Serb soldiers as they held her stick-thin wrists and raped her over and over again.
She doesn’t remember how many times, but she remembers their laughs: when they raped her and her mother, who was later shot and killed in their home in Zepa, in eastern Bosnia.
The 12-year-old girl, also shot, survived and made her way to government-held Zenica in central Bosnia.
“I’m sure her life is ruined,” said Mirha Pojskic, a psychologist at the Medica center, which specializes in helping women and children recover from wartime atrocities.
The girl’s story – a couple of pages in a thick casebook at Medica – could be one of those retold someday in a faraway courtroom. Since the peace pact, war crimes investigators have stepped up collection of testimony and evidence of allegations of mass rape and the use of sexual assault as a military policy.
“This could be the first time in history that women are coming forward right after a war to talk about rape,” said Jasna Baksic-Muftic, secretary-general of the Sarajevo chapter of the Union of Women’s Associations of Bosnia. “It could be a very important milestone for war crime prosecutors.”
Counseling and aid groups have spent the past weeks organizing their patient records for investigators and asking alleged victims if they would be willing to testify in court. It’s a delicate question.
“If they say ‘No’, that’s good enough. We don’t want to push them too hard and risk all the therapy,” Pojskic said Wednesday.
Medica has treated alleged rape victims as young as 12 and as old as 62, many of them refugees from eastern Bosnia. The Sarajevo-based Corridor counseling group has compiled dozens of cases, including women who became pregnant from alleged rapes and either gave birth or opted for abortions – sometimes crude procedures at home.
Western aid agency documents obtained by The Associated Press give examples of the testimony being collected in Tuzla, the closest government town to the eastern areas overrun by the Serbs.
– A 15-year-old girl said she and other women were raped by 19 Bosnian Serb soldiers. She escaped through a window and ran more than four miles through the woods to Bosnian government lines. Her brother’s nose and ears were cut off when he refused to rape their mother, the girl told aid workers.
– A woman claimed her 11-year-old son was buried alive after he was forced to watch soldiers rape and beat her.
– Bosnian Serb soldiers cut a cross in the head of a Muslim woman after a gang rape.
Most of the present rape allegations are against Bosnian Serbs, but all sides in the conflict claim women and girls were sexually abused.
U.S. human rights envoy John Shattuck said the State Department and the United Nations had collected evidence supporting claims that rape is “one of the major areas in which war crimes occurred.”
“That evidence, I’m sure, is being closely reviewed by the war crimes tribunal,” he said this week in Sarajevo.
The Hague tribunal’s opening trial, scheduled March 18, will mark the first time rape is included as a war crime. A woman, identified only as “F” in court documents, is to testify against Dusan Tadic, a Bosnian Serb prison guard accused of murder, rape and torture.
The woman will be allowed to give evidence over a one-way video link.
“Without some way to protect the women, who is going to want to testify?” asked Kirsten Wienberg, a coordinator of the Medica center.
The international tribunal has indicted 52 suspects – seven Bosnian Croats and 45 Bosnian Serbs, including military commander Gen. Ratko Mladic and political leader Radovan Karadzic. It will soon begin hearings to allow public disclosure of charges against suspects not in custody, which may provide a more complete picture of how widespread rape was during the 3 1/2-year war.
Bosnian government officials say as many as 30,000 Muslim women may have been sexually assaulted, but there are few reliable figures.
“We’ll probably never know the true figure,” said Ms. Pojskic, the Medica psychologist. “With every new case, the woman says she knows two or three other people who were raped and who haven’t come forward.”
There are no statistics on the number of pregnancies from rape, but counselors and health experts believe it’s at least several thousand.
Salih Rasavac, the Corridor director, has counseled 65 women who claimed they became pregnant from rape. Thirty-five had abortions – some late in pregnancy that left them infertile. The rest had their children, yet all but one abandoned them at the hospital without seeing the newborns, he said.
The woman who kept her baby – a boy born in 1993 – said she was held prisoner by Bosnian Serbs for 14 months in a house in a Serb-held suburb of Sarajevo, and raped by dozens of men.
Her husband has since accepted the boy, but the woman is deeply ambivalent.
“When he is nice I want to touch him and hug him, but I can’t. My hand sometimes stops in midair,” she told Rasavac. “When he is bad, I can’t punish him. It reminds me of the humiliation I felt.”