UN peacekeepers took part in rapes during Bosnian Genocide
Witnesses say UN personnel visited rape camp run by Serbs
1 November 1993.
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — U.N. peacekeepers in Bosnia regularly visited Serb-run brother outside Sarajevo, where some of them took sexual advantage of Bosniak and Croat women forced into prostitution, according to Muslim witnesses and the local Serb commander.
Although the Bosnian government charged repeatedly that Bosnian Serbs had set up a concentration camp at the same site, U.N. peacekeepers neither investigated the facility nor reported its existence to their superiors, according to former prisoners and UN officials.
The visits occurred in the summer and autumn of 1992 at “Sonja’s Kon-Tiki,” a restaurant-pension in Vogosca, about six miles north of Sarajevo, according to 12 Muslim [Bosniak] and three Serb witnesses. A U.N. investigation of alleged black market activities and other improprieties by U.N. personnel in Sarajevo has been widened to include these allegations.
Sonja’s gained notoriety following the capture and trial of Borislav Herak, a Serb soldier who was sentenced to death by the Bosnian government in March for raping and murdering Bosniak and Croat women at Sonja’s during the summer of 1992. Herak testified at his trial that he visited Sonja’s two to three times a week, raping women there. He said that on one occasion he saw U.N. personnel at Sonja’s.
According to Branislav Vlaco, the Bosnian Serb commander of the camp from May to November 1992, U.N. troops were frequent visitors to Sonja’s.
“They came several times a week, while I was commandant,” he said.
He said the U.N. personnel came for food and drinks, to watch television on his satellite receiver, “and they came for the girls, too.”
Vlaco, who later became chief of police in Vogosca, said that as many as 50 U.N. peacekeepers came to visit. The officers were from Canada, New Zealand, France, Ukraine and an African country, he said [which explains why some rape babies were black]. A member of the self-styled Bosnian Serb government and a restaurant employee also confirmed frequent visits by U.N. officers.
Vlaco also ran the detention camp in a half-buried bunker about 150 feet behind the restaurant, where 80 to 100 people, mostly Bosniak men, were held in inhumane conditions. Survivors of the camp interviewed by Newsday reported that in the summer and autumn of 1992, uniformed U.N. troops arrived in U.N. transports and jeeps on six or more occasions and entered the restaurant. Sometimes they stayed for raucous parties that lasted into the night. On other occasions the camp survivors saw young Bosniak or Croat women being forced into U.N. armored personnel carriers or civilian cars that followed the U.N. vehicles to an unknown destination. Not once did U.N. personnel investigate the bunker, the witnesses said.
The witnesses to events at Sonja’s included nine Muslim men from Vogosca or the nearby towns of Semizovac and Svrake who had been held in the bunker, and three Muslim women who were held at Sonja’s for varying periods. Two of the women told Newsday that they had been raped at the brothel, one by a U.N. officer, one by a Bosnian Serb soldier. A third said she witnessed Bosnian Serb officers rape and kill two Muslim girls in front of a crowd of captured Muslim women.
Every one of a dozen Muslim witnesses to the purported U.N. visits to Sonja’s stated his or her strong belief that members of the U.N. protection force, sent to Bosnia to ease the suffering of civilians, had joined in the sexual abuse of female detainees.
Newsday also located witnesses who reported frequent visits by U.N. personnel to the Park Hotel in Vogosca, where they said local women were routinely taken at gunpoint to be raped by Serb paramilitary leaders.
The interviews of the witnesses took place in Sarajevo, in government-held territory in central Bosnia, and in other countries during a six-month Newsday investigation.
These reported abuses were said to be taking place at about the same time that Serb forces were operating rape camps and systematically raping Bosniak and Croat women as part of their “ethnic cleansing” campaign to drive non-Serbs out of Bosnia.
U.N. officials at U.N. headquarters in Zagreb, Croatia, declined to comment on the allegations.
Despite reports of the worst atrocities and human rights abuses in Europe since the Nazi Holocaust, U.N. military commanders in Sarajevo said they felt that they had no mandate to investigate reports of mistreatment in concentration camps. They said they were not even aware that their troops were publicly accused of impropriety.
Answers Needed to Charges of UN Misconduct in Bosnia
For half a year charges of sexual misconduct filed by a Sarajevo prosecutor against a high UN official have been circulating widely in Arab, European and Canadian media, and in UN and human rights circles in New York. While the official named denied the charges, to date there has been no formal acknowledgement let alone inquiry into them, raising troubling questions for some about who polices the peacekeepers. PNS associate editor Dennis Bernstein is an award-winning investigative reporter. Bernstein’s research was funded in part by the Washington, D.C. based Fund for Investigative Journalism.
By: Dennis Bernstein, Pacific News Service
Last November the chief Bosnian military prosecutor in Sarajevo charged a high UN official with sexual misconduct against civilians while on duty in Bosnia. The prosecutor publicly demanded that the Bosnian president press the United Nations to remove the official’s diplomatic immunity.
Although reports of the alleged war crimes have appeared in the Arab, European and Canadian press, have been circulating in UN circles and even surfaced in a briefing for U.S. Congressional aides by a human rights group, there has as yet been no formal response from the UN. While the official has denied the charges, those attempting to investigate them — journalists, human rights advocates, foreign policyanalysts, and at least one U.S. legislator, not to mention Bosnian officials and Sarajevans themselves — believe they raise troubling questions about the overall accountability of the UN: just who is policing the peacekeepers?
Some months after he unexpectedly stepped down from his assignment last August, General Lewis MacKenzie, Canadian head of the UN peacekeeping force in Bosnia Herzegovina, was charged in a bill of indictment by chief military prosecutor Mustafa Bisic with sexually molesting four Bosnian Muslim [Bosniak] women held by Serbian forces in a prison camp in a Sarajevo suburb.
In a letter to the Bosnian president dated Dec. 3, 1992, Bisic cited the eyewitness testimony of a Serbian guard who had worked at the camp, known as Kod Sonje. The guard claimed he saw MacKenzie and several escorts arrive in a military transport vehicle with the UN insignia. The eyewitness claimed guards were then ordered to release four Bosnian Muslim women prisoners to MacKenzie. According to the prosecutor’s complaint, the women were later murdered by camp guards under orders to “erase evidence” of this “unusual gift.”
The prosecutor’s charges, aired over Sarajevo television, were denounced by MacKenzie in several interviews with European and Canadian media as a propaganda tactic by one side in the three-sidedcivil war to gain international sympathy. “I can understand why they (Bosnian officials) would do something like that,” the former UN peacekeeper told the Vancouver Sun in an interview published Feb. 13.
“If I had been in their position and found that the peace-keeping force was not what I wanted, I can envision my devious mind working out a story to discredit them.”
Nevertheless, in February new information about the possible existence of a videotape placing MacKenzie at the Kod Sonje camp helped refocus attention to the charges. In an interview with Pacific News Service, U.S. Congresswoman Louise M. Slaughter (D-NY) says she is “very concerned” about the charges and has informed U.S. ambassador to the UN Madeline Albright that her office “is trying to ferret them out as best we can.”
Slaughter learned about the videotape from Safeta Ovcina, a Bosnian nurse who testified at a special briefing conducted by Helsinki Watch for Congressional staffers. The briefing was held February 23 amid growing concern in the West over media accounts of mass rapes of Bosnian Muslim women by Serbian soldiers.
Ovcina, who spent ten months tending war victims at a frontline hospital before fleeing Sarajevo for the United States, testified she had been shown the videotape by her neighbors whom she described as members of the Bosnian military.
“I looked at the tape and saw General MacKenzie, whom we always saw on TV news, with Serb chetniks. There were three or four girls on both sides of him…MacKenzie was hugging them.”
In a telephone interview with Pacific News Service at her home in St. Louis, Ovcina says she recognized some of the young women as formerly involved in a hair cutting business.
“They didn’t laugh, theydidn’t cry, they just sat there…The feeling I had is that they were surrounded by a bunch of drunken people, and they were very unhappy,” she recalled.
Ovcina says her neighbors told her the women were later killed and buried in a grave on the outskirts of Sarajevo. In her testimony at the Helsinki Watch briefing, she also described witnessing other abuses and indiscretions by UN personnel, including the selling of protection, food, cigarettes.
Bosnian officials in the United States interviewed by Pacific News Service say they do not know the whereabouts of the videotape nor do they have any verification that it exists. Although the allegations are now widely accepted as truth in Sarajevo, according to Bosnian Ambassador to the UN Muhamed Sacirbey, at this point “there is no proof to justify them.” Interviewed by phone from New York, Sacirbeysaid his government had not formally challenged General MacKenzie’s diplomatic immunity at the UN.
Another eyewitness to the alleged Kod Sonje incident is Borislav Herak, a Serbian soldier captured by Bosnian forces in early November and now awaiting execution for war crimes. Herak was interviewed on film by award winning Bosnian film maker and TV producer Ademir Kenovic several days after his arrest.
According to a transcript of the interview provided by Kenovic, Herak said he was at the camp when MacKenzie arrived in a white UN vehicle and met with the camp warden Miro Vukovic. He was then taken to a room “for big shots” where he was served whiskey and food.
Later, Herak said he saw MacKenzie and several other UN soldiers “taking four or five girls in this vehicle to have fun.” Asked if he were certain it was General MacKenzie, Herak replied, “Yes, I am sure. I saw him on television.”
To date, General MacKenzie has not been questioned by U.S. media about the charges and repeated phone calls to him by Pacific News Service in Washington DC were not returned.
Congresswoman Slaughter says while she doesn’t want to spread “what could be a smear campaign,” she considers the allegations serious enough to warrant investigation. If proven true, they couldundermine the UN’s entire peacekeeping mandate.
“But I don’t know who is authorized to handle such an investigation,” she added.
Slaughter was especially troubled to learn that twice when he visited Washington last May, General MacKenzie was represented by the public relations firm of Craig Shirley and Associates which is closely identified with the Serbian government. The firm also represents Serb-Net Inc., a Chicago-based association of Serbian American organizations which a spokesperson says “works to counter the negative press images about Serbia.”