Rape is "a Weapon of War" in the Bosnian Genocide, European Inquiry
By Alan Riding
9 January 1993.
volume 50. No.131, year 127. p.
(also published in NYT)
A team of European Community investigators has estimated that 20,000 Muslim women have been raped by Bosnian Serb soldiers in recent months as part of a deliberate pattern of abuse aimed at driving them from their homes in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The team said there were indications that some rapes were carried out “in particularly sadistic ways so as to inflict maximum humiliation on the victims.” The report did not elaborate.
It said it had also received strong evidence that “many women, and more particularly children, may have died during or after rape.” The report did not give the range of ages of the victims or say how many might have died.
Noting that most incidents of rape occurred during Bosnian Serb military attacks on Muslim communities, the team concluded that “rape cannot be seen as incidental to the main purposes of the aggression but as serving a strategic purpose in itself.” Refugees have described the rapes in the past in extensive interviews.
Ordering the investigation at a meeting in Edinburgh last month, community leaders strongly condemned the “systematic” detention and rape of Muslim women “to achieve the purpose of ethnic cleansing” as a crime against humanity and warned that those responsible would be brought to justice.
The team, which has already visited Muslim refugees in Croatia and plans to travel to Bosnia and Herzegovina later this month, is headed by Dame Anne Warburton, a former British diplomat, and comprises Simone Veil, a prominent French politician, as well as medical, legal and other experts. Compiling Statistics
In an interim report to community foreign ministers, which was made available just two days before peace talks between Bosnia’s three belligerent parties resume in Geneva, the mission said it was aware that rape and sexual abuse were not limited to Muslims or even to women.
“Muslim women undoubtedly form the vast majority of rape victims,” it said. “However, there are also disturbing reports of Croat and Serbian women as well as sexual abuse of men in detention camps.” The team’s specific mission was nonetheless to investigate treatment of Muslim women.
It further noted that, given the widespread displacement of people and the continuing conflict in many areas, “the inherent difficulties involved in compiling statistics on rape and other sexual abuse have been hugely accentuated in the current chaotic conditions.”
But the five-page report said the team became convinced that “many thousands” of Muslim women had suffered rape and that “this was continuing.” And it said, “The most reasoned estimate suggested to the delegation indicated a figure in the region of 20,000 victims.”
Noting that it was repeatedly told that rape was being used as “a weapon of war,” the team said it “accepted the view that rape is part of a pattern of abuse, usually perpetrated with the conscious intention of demoralizing and terrorizing communities, driving them from their home regions and demonstrating the power of the invading force.” The report did not mention specific towns or areas affected.
“Probably in most cases, other forms of physical and mental violence to persons were associated with rape, accompanied or followed by the destruction of homes, mosques and churches,” it said.
The report said the team repeatedly heard accounts of multiple rapes against women in camps and in places like houses, restaurants and police stations, but had been unable to verify those reports.
It said that a census being carried out among refugees in Croatia should determine if many Muslim women of reproductive age are missing, either killed or held captive. Other Atrocities Noted
The report said the team had been unable to estimate the number of Bosnian Muslim women who have become pregnant as a result of rape, but it noted that the problem of adoption will have to be addressed because “many of the women concerned are likely not to wish to keep children conceived in such circumstances.” It did not say whether any victims had indicated that they had received abortions.
Recommending emergency help for rape victims, the team said there was an urgent need for experts in rape and sexual abuse counseling in Croatia.
“Without skilled and appropriate counseling, long-term psychological disturbance with risk of suicide will be the chief result,” it said.
It urged community governments to help train counselors and to step up financial assistance to enable the Croatian and Bosnian Governments to cope with the problem. It also suggested that community governments speed up visa procedures for Bosnian refugees and give temporary asylum to Bosnian Muslim women in need of medical attention.
The report added that the delegation was aware that “rape cannot be considered in isolation from other atrocities,” adding, “Life and property are being destroyed on a massive scale, with violations of the most basic rights.”
Photo: A Bosnian woman from the town of Prijedor in Bosnia and Herzegovina wept last month while describing to a team of investigators how Serbian captors repeatedly raped her and her 16-year-old daughter last July. She also said her husband and two sons were still missing.