By Indira Kajosevic




In the late summer and fall of 1992, much of the world heard about "mass rape" for the first time. For survivors of World War II, such as the Korean “comfort women” who had been forced into sexual servitude by the Japanese Army, the Russian and German women raped by German and Russian soldiers, or the Bengali women who had been raped during Bangladesh's war of secession from Pakistan in 1971, "mass rape" was nothing new. But for thousands of people worldwide in late 1992,[1] the events in former Yugoslavia exposed them to what they believed was a phenomenon of the 1990s: rape as a systematic policy and a tool of war.

     In this paper the issue of rape is approached as gender, specific war crime which was considered by the international community for the first time in history in 1992. This was the first time that the Security Council of the United Nations adopted a resolution[2] specifically to protect women's rights in a war situation.  If we take into consideration the contemporary sensitivity toward gender issues as part of the global agenda for peace we can state that rape began to be seen in Bosnia as an attempt to extinguish the identity of women.

     The traditional international system of sovereignty and national borders has been challenged in the last decade. The end of the Cold War has led to a major shake up in the discipline of International Relations. A contemporary gender approach has helped to reconstruct the language of international relations as well as the understanding that issues such as rape of women in warfare must be dealt with at the highest international level.

                         The European Community's (EC) report of 3 February 1993, based on two missions to the former Yugoslavia headed by Dame Ann Warburton’ found  estimates ranging from 10,000 to 60,000, of victims o rape. The EC report finally settled on  20,000.[3]

     In a number of UN resolutions, adopted by the Security Council and General Assembly, mass rape in the former Yugoslavia was made the object of condemnation.[4] The Security Council demanded an end to the practice of rape and abuse of women and children, and expressed outrage at its use as a “weapon of war” and “an instrument of ethnic cleansing.”[5] This language is especially important in properly defining the use of rape in armed conflicts, and reinforces the possibility of defining rape as being part of a genocidal policy.

There are thus two interrelated issues which I would like to address

as nonetheless separate issues in this context:  The first concerns rape as

a policy of genocide.  The second aspect giving recognition to the

individual experience of rape by both victims and perpetrators. 

1.    Rape as a policy of genocide, and

2.    Recognition of the individual experience of rape by both victims and perpetrators.

             I will quote Ronda Copelons’ opinion on genocidal rape, “The elision of genocide and rape in the focus on genocidal rape as a means of emphasizing the heinousness of the rape of Muslim women in Bosnia is thus dangerous.  Rape and genocide are separate atrocities. Genocide - the effort to destroy a people based on its identity as a people - evokes the deepest horror and warrants the severest condemnation. Rape is sexualized violence that seeks to humiliate, terrorize, and destroy a woman based on her identity as a woman. But to emphasize as unparalleled the horror of genocidal rape is factually dubious and rendering rape invisible once again. [6]

                     The international and popular condemnation of the rapes in Bosnia tends to be either explicitly or implicitly based on the fact that rape is being used as a tactic of ethnic cleansing. Genocidal rape is widely seen not as a modality of rape but as unique. This distinction commonly drawn between genocidal rape and “normal” rape in war or in peace is proffered not as a typology, but rather as a hierarchy. But to exaggerate the distinctiveness of genocidal rape obscures the atrocity of common rape. The notion that genocidal rape is uniquely a weapon of war is also problematic.  And here is where we can address the individual approach.

                     I argue that persecution based on gender must be recognized as its own category of crimes against humanity as distinct from genocide. The crystallization of the concept of crimes against humanity in the wake of the Holocaust has meant that "it" is popularly associated with religious and ethnic genocide. But the concept o crimes against humanity is a broader one, and the categories of persecution are explicitly open-ended, capable of expanding to embrace new understanding of persecution. With respect to women, the need is to acknowledge that gender has historically not been viewed as a relevant category of victimization. The frequency of mass rape and the absence of sanction are sufficient evidence. The expansion of the concept of crimes against humanity to include gender is thus part of the broader movement to end the historical invisibility of gender violence as a human rights violation.

      In May 1993, the Statute for an International War Crimes Tribunal  based  in the Hague was presented and preparations were made to put the actual body in place. The objective was to show that accountability mattered and that punishment would send an important message to possible future perpetrators of this crime.

                             It is crucial that if crimes perpetrated against women during  wars

 are to be effectively addressed and prevented, than they their multifaceted

 nature must be understood. Rape is used as a military strategy, and as a tool

for ethnic cleansing, as well as war propaganda. In order to explain this phenomenon one should then deconstruct the language of power-

based relationships in international relation theory.  Only then will we

be able to recognize individual experiences as separate atrocities.  In

this case, rapes of women in Bosnia were presented as a state-related

issue while the war was going on but women’s groups dealt with the victims as individuals.  Although the rape issue was used to serve the

purpose of bringing stronger international pressures upon aggressors

in this war, the Serbs.

        Also, it helped that the women’s movement in the former Yugoslavia

was supported by international women’s groups in order to raise the issue

of rape of women in conflicts areas.

        If the Bosnian rape cases were to be presented as gender specific violation in wars than it allows international community to be gender sensitive despite the fact that it serves state interests. If the state centered approach is replaced with one emphasizing the individual as the unit analysis this would facilitate the inclusion of gender-related issues in international relations. There is an understanding that there is no global development without women’s active participation.

                The gender approach in international relations has included feminist theory’s rejection of the realist preoccupation with states’ military strategies in favor of developing strategies for world securities.

                In this paper, I will use the feminist theory as a framework or the internationalization of the issue o women raped in the former Yugoslavia.






Feminist theory

                Women are perceived as victims of oppression and brutality, but only at the hands of other nationalities. A woman who has been raped is devalued property and signals defeat for the man who fails in his role as protector.  Raping the other’s women is a violation of territorial integrity, an act  war, a means of establishing jurisdiction and conquest.  The territory/property o the enemy males is occupied though the “colonization” of female bodies.  Rape at once pollutes and occupies the territory of the nation, transgresses its boundaries, defeats its protectors. Degrading the nation’s symbol of fertility and purity, it physically blocks its continuity and threatens its existence. It, thus, promises to “cleanse” the territory whose borders spread through the “birth of an enemy son.”[7]

        Given the traditional notion recuperated in warrior mythology o the male as the bearer of the generic stuff of the nation and the female as property and a vessel in which sons and daughters of the nation grow, men become owners of the territory/womb as well as owners o the children women carry. This is expressed in the words of a rapist, reported by survivors in Bosnia, "You have an enemy child in your womb and it’s of my ethnicity -nationality."[8]

              It is safe to say that rape serves a strategic purpose, as it always has in wars, to "demonstrate the power of the invading forces."[9]

                         Research on domestic rape and sexual assault has been around for some time. Susan Brownmiller writes:

                            It's funny about man's attitude toward rape in war. Unquestionably there shall be some raping. Unconscionable, but nevertheless inevitable. When men are men, slugging it out among themselves, conquering new land, driving on toward victory, unquestionably there shall be some raping. And so it has been. Rape has accompanied wars of religion: knights and pilgrims took time off for sexual assault as they marched toward Constantinople in the First Crusade, to the victor belong the spoils' has applied to women since Helen of Troy, but the sheer property worth of women was replaced in time by a far more subtle system of values. Down through the ages, triumph over women by rape became a way to measure victory, part of a soldier's proof of masculinity and success, a tangible reward for services redeemed.[10]


      Reports on Rape of Women in 1992 

                          While some international humanitarian and  relief organizations dealt with the issue in their field reports, the media reports broke  the story of the raped Bosnian women to the general public. Helsinki Watch reported:                         Rape is being used as a "weapon of war" in Bosnia-Herzegovina - whether a        woman is raped by soldiers in her home or is held in a house with other women and raped all over again, she is raped  with a political purpose - to intimidate, humiliate, and degrade her and others affected by her suffering. The effect of rape is often to ensure that women and their families will flee and never return.[11]

                The Lawyer's Committee for Human Rights, also wrote several reports on detention of women for the purpose of rape, perpetrated by the forces of Serbian paramilitary groups such as the 'White Eagles' or the followers of Arkan, the nom-de-guerre of an internationally wanted war criminal and former Yugoslav secret police agent, or the openly fascist Serbian Radical party leader, Vojislav Seselj. These are the already well-known shock troops of Serbian “ethnic cleansing.”

                The EC's  Investigative Mission into the Treatment of Muslim  Women in the Former Yugoslavia, led by Dame Anne Warburton and Simone Weil, sought specifically to arrive at a view about whether or not the rape of Muslim women could be properly described as systematic. In its initial discussions with the staff of the international organizations in Geneva, the Delegation noted the contrast between  the extensive media coverage of the alleged rapes and the lack of supporting documentary evidence in the possession of the concerned organizations  (including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Committee of the Red Cross). In Zagreb, the delegation's  priority had been to try to establish the facts by means of direct and indirect contacts. The mental health experts on the team held individual interviews with a small number of victims. They found that a repeated feature of Serbian attacks on Muslim towns and villages was the use of rape or the threat of rape as a weapon of war to force the population to leave their homes.

                Dr. Shana Swiss of the Women's Commission of Physicians for Human Rights who followed up the UN Reporter's investigation found a 119 cases of pregnant rape victims in a small sample of six hospitals in Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia. Based on the assumption that 1% of acts of unprotected sexual intercourse result in pregnancy, the identification of 119 pregnancies therefore represents some 11, 900 cases of rape. These numbers, however, must be interpreted carefully.[12]

                It must be pointed out that first-hand accounts reported on the spot are extremely rare. Rape victims are usually in such a state of shock that they are unable to speak of their ordeal. Moreover, they are probably reluctant to tell their story while remaining on the territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina for fear of reprisals against themselves or their families.

                                   During a war crimes trial in Sarajevo in March 1993, Borislav Herak, a Serbian soldier, testified that the rapes he committed had been ordered for "Serbian morale." The instrument for their morale building, a Crotian-Muslim survivor reported that, as they raped her, Serbian soldiers were telling me “Croatia needs to be crushed again.” Baliajas need to be crushed completely. You are half this and half that. You need to be crushed to the end. Because you're Croatian, you should be raped by five different men - and because you're “Bula,” you should be raped by five more.[13]

                                   Catherine MacKinnon agrees that Balija and Bula are derogatory names for Muslims.        

                Xenophobia and misogyny merge here; ethnic hatred is sexualized; bigotry becomes orgasm. Whatever this rape does for the rapist, the pornography of the rape mass-produces. The material becomes a potent           advertisement for a war, a perfect motivation for torturers, who then do what      they are ordered to do and enjoy it. Yes, it improves their morale.[14]


Implementation of International Humanitarian Law

                     War and conflicts exist in such abundance and war crimes against women are so diverse, often perfectly invisible, numerous and interchangeable in location, that the cynicism that rape has always been part of conflict continues to serve as an explanation for the victimization itself. Women’s rights enforcement in times of war is tedious and difficult.

     Francoise Krill, of the International Committee of the Red Cross wrote a study "The Protection of Women in International Humanitarian Law." She finds that from 1929 onward, women have enjoyed special protection under international humanitarian law. In that year, the powers which adopted the Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War sought to take into account a new phenomenon: the participation of a relatively large number of women in the war of 1914-1918. This international legal instrument contained two provisions of particular interest: "women shall be treated with all consideration due to their sex. Differences of treatment between prisoners are permissible only if such differences are based on  military rank, the state of physical or mental health, professional abilities, or the sex of those who benefit from them".[15]

Like all civilians, women are protected both against abusive treatment by the Party to the conflict in whose power she finds herself and against effects of hostilities. A civilian is defined as any person who does not belong to the armed forces.

               In addition to the general protection from which all civilians benefit, the law says that women shall be especially protected against any attack on their honor, in particular against rape, enforced prostitution or any form of indecent assault. This provision was introduced to denounce certain practices which occurred, for example, during the last World War, when innumerable women of all ages, and even children, were subjected to outrages of the worst kind: rape committed in occupied territories, brutal treatment of every sort, mutilations, and other atrocities. In areas where troops were stationed or through which they passed, thousands of women were made to enter brothels against their will. Acts against which women are protected by Art. 27, para. 2, C.IV are and remain prohibited in all places and in all circumstances. Women, whatever their nationality, race, religious beliefs, age, marital status or social condition have an absolute right to respect for their honor and their modesty, in short, for their dignity as women.  The origin of Art. 76, P.1, entitled "Protection of Women," is the resolution of the United Nations Economic and Social Council of April 1970 on "The Protection of Women and Children in time of Emergency, War, Struggle for Peace, National Liberation and Independence."

               Under the terms of the Protocol , women whose liberty has been restricted for reasons related to the armed conflict shall be held in quarters separated from men's quarters. They shall be under the immediate supervision of women. Nevertheless, in cases where families are detained or interned, they shall, whenever possible, be held in the same place and accommodated as family units. The Fourth Geneva Convention declares:

               Whenever it is necessary, as an exceptional and temporary measure, to accommodate women internees who are not members of a family unit in the same place of internment as men, the provision of separate sleeping quarters and sanitary conveniences for the use of such women internees shall be obligatory.[16]


Application & Implementation of the UN Resolutions

                 The UN-established Commission of Experts, mandated in 1992 to investigate and determine whether grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and other violations of international humanitarian law had occurred on the territory of  former Yugoslavia identified five patterns of rape, regardless of the ethnic origin of the perpetrators or victims:[17]

     1) Individuals or small groups committing sexual assaults in conjunction with looting and intimidation of the target ethnic group before any widespread of generalized fighting breaks out in the region;

     2) Individuals or small groups committing sexual assaults in conjunction with fighting in an area, often including the rape of women in public;

     3) Individuals or groups sexually assaulting people in detention because they have access to the people. In camps where men are detained, they also are, likely to be subjected to sexual abuse;

     4) Individuals or groups committing sexual assaults against women for the purpose of terrorizing and humiliating them often as part of the policy of "ethnic cleansing." Survivors of some camps report that they believe they were detained for the purpose of rape. Some captors also state that they were trying to impregnate the women. Pregnant women are detained until it is too late for them to obtain an abortion;

     5) Detention of women in hotels or similar facilities for the sole purpose of sexually entertaining soldiers, rather  than causing a reaction in the women. These women are reportedly more often killed than exchanged, unlike women in other camps. The Commission report cites the following as evidence of a systematic policy: Similarities among practices in non-contiguous geographic areas; simultaneous commission of other international humanitarian law violations; simultaneous military activity; simultaneous activity to displace civilian populations; common elements in the commission of rape, maximizing shame and humiliation to not only the victim, but also the victim's community; and the timing of rapes. One factor in particular that leads to this conclusion is the large number of rapes which occurred in places of detention.[18]

                The report concludes that these patterns strongly suggested that a systematic rape policy existed in certain areas, but it remains to be proven whether such an overall policy existed which was to apply to all non-Serbs.

The question of whether rape was widespread or systematic in the former Yugoslavia will be based on far more stringent criteria if the question of accountability for systematic rape is taken up by an international court of law. It is extremely difficult to obtain evidence of the knowledge and tolerance of rape by commanders, not to mention direct orders from political leaders and chain of command. For this reason, it is important not to let the debate deflect from the central issue: each individual woman's experience of rape.

                In addition to the question of whether rape was systematic or not, the nature of many of the rapes have led to the question of whether they were in fact genocidal. The reports of the Special Reporter to the former Yugoslavia, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, draws attention to the widespread occurrence of rape and states that in Bosnia and Croatia rape has been used as an instrument of ethnic cleansing.

                The Commission of Experts concluded that there was "an overriding policy advocating the use of rape as a method of ethnic cleansing, rather than a policy of omission, tolerating the widespread commission of rape."[19]

                There are various reasons for considering rape systematic. Girls as young as 5 and women as old as 80 were raped. Rapes often took place in public to humiliate, terrorize the population, and to make sure the women and their family never returned to their communities. Rapes took place during forced detention in concentration camps where an ethnic cleansing  plan was being carried out. Women were often raped with sharp objects, so as to impose maximum damage on their reproductive organs. And there were reported cases of forced impregnation, where women were held and impregnated, released only after safe abortions could no longer be performed.



The Role of Media

                Accounts of human rights violations committed on the territory of the former Yugoslavia have been around since the war in Croatia began in 1991, but their scale and, seemingly, their brutality increased when the war spread to Bosnia in the spring of 1992. There were thousands of reporters eager to cover this bloody war in the middle of Europe. Among the horror stories relayed to the Western public by the media were the accounts of "systematic rape" and "forced impregnation," (mainly Muslim women) by mainly Serbian soldiers. In August 1992,  Roy Gutman, reporting for New York Newsday, broke the story of "mass rape" to the world in[20] in a series of reports that later won him a Pulitzer Prize. His August 23 article entitled "Rape by Order," quotes several women from Eastern Bosnia telling of being repeatedly and publicly raped, in front of soldiers, neighbors, and family members, and being told by some of their perpetuators that "we have orders to rape."

                Slavenka Drakulic, a feminist and writer, began a mass media campaign with her text entitled "Thousands of Lives Destroyed," published in Time in November 1992,

                The statistics are terrifying according to the estimates made by the Bosnia-Herzegovina Ministry of Internal Affairs in October 1992. Fifty thousand  women and girls were raped and very many intentionally made pregnant . The Ministry has documented 14,000 cases. Mass sexual abuse is a method of genocide and it should be outlawed by means of international legislation. Drakulic has described rape as a method of genocidal rape in this war is the tactic of the Yugoslav Army, i.e. the Serb and Montenegrin armies, to invade and occupy territory.[21]

                Based on similar media reports in many other broadcast or print media indicating a “systematic" nature to the rapes, coupled with the fact that a large number of women (we can only guess how many) belonging to the same ethnic group had been raped, public opinion formed around the idea that the Serbs had been carrying out a systematic policy mainly against Muslim women. "Systematic" was  quickly associated with "mass rape," though we could only say for certain at the time, at least with respect to Bosnia,  that rape was "widespread."

                It was less helpful that the discussion in the media focused almost exclusively on numbers. The question as to whether 60,000, 20,000 or fewer women were violated became obsessive. The longer the debate, the more journalists started to question the relevance of the entire issue. Had women really been grossly violated if only 330 cases were researched well enough to be ready for prosecution by October 1993 and only some 3,000 cases sufficiently well documented to investigate prosecution by April 1994 after the completion of a first UN investigation? Two rather fatal assumptions emerged. One assumption was that sexual assault as a war crime in the former Yugoslavia occurred only during the period of June 1992 to December 1992. This assumption was nourished by the absence in the mass media of further reporting on this issue after mid-1993. Hence, there was no reason to investigate current cases in order to establish continued patterns. The second assumption was that the number of 'cases' and the total number of women and girls raped were the same. Of course, this assumption made no sense and only created confusion. It was more than unfortunate that the public made no clear distinction between women who had suffered rape and other sexual assault and the relatively limited number among them who not only had survived but who were willing to testify or to appear in trial.

              The Bosnian Government report dated October 1992 read as follows:

              Based on the available data, first of all, the statements of witness first of all, it can be said that the occupying forces have established special camps for women and children in the temporarily occupied territories of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. They commit there sexual crimes - raping and other sexual abuses against young women, girls and female children of non-Serbian nationalities. For these camps the aggressor uses all suitable facilities of larger capacity such as hotels, motels, resorts, etc. The data collected so far show that about 14.000 women, girls and female children (2.000 – aged 7 to 18; 8.000, 18 - 35 year old; 3.000, 35 - 50 year olds and over 1.000 over 50 years old) were raped and served to Chetniks for satisfying their low instincts.[22]        

     It is quite possible that the Public Relation firm and the involved governments wanted to bring forward the issue of rape as a propaganda tool  rather then to protect  victims that were unquestionably  raped in masses throughout Bosnia. The Governments of Bosnia and Croatia wanted to present to the Western general public an issue that they could understand (rape is happening everywhere) rather than to present a picture of the historic hatred in the Balkans which would not relate to the general public.[23]

     In Serbia, Belgrade television also began to broadcast stories about raped Serbian women, and all over the world Yugoslavian embassies dispatched reports of raped Serbian women and forcible Muslim-Croatian run brothels.

              For a long time, Radovan Karadzic, leader of the Bosnian Serbs claimed that Serbian soldiers did not commit rape as a matter of principle. Nevertheless, in October 1992 he admitted in an interview for the British BBC that he could not control every Serbian soldier, and that there was sexual abuse on all sides. When the mass rapes of Muslim women by Serbian forces were  reported around the world, he reported not to know anything about them. At a press conference in Belgrade on December 23, he  said:

               The lies about the organized rapes of Muslim women in prisons and other locations are shameful, lacking all basis in fact and going beyond all bounds of human decency. We challenge the whole world to prove the existence of a single prison for women or a single case of organized rape or even the presence of a single female civilian in our prisons, which for that matter are all open to inspection by international organizations.[24]

               In local and international media, Serbian propaganda accused Muslim and Croatian women's groups, officials, and state governments, of  lobbying through a number of interest groups, women's, Muslim, and Croatian, to pass resolutions condemning these outrageous crimes against humanity by the Serbian military violators without adequate evidence which could support the scope of the claims. According to the Serbian newspapers, most of the reports are based on hearsay. The truth of the matter is that the rape allegations were introduced to the public via a well orchestrated media blitz starting in November. They received extensive attention and condemnation at the highest levels of national and international bodies, were examined by these bodies and, upon review, to reflect evidence resulting from these examinations, were modified to reflect evidence that all military forces, Croat, Muslim and Serb have perpetrated these violations on a large scale. Ambassador Herbert Occun[25] told me "If we  discuss  numbers, we could say that the first Bosnian government report was sensational. In any case, the UN investigating mission led by Shariff Bassoun provided a more likely figure of  about 3000 women victims."

                The international community reacted to the sensational figures by adopting the first Security Council Resolution to protect abuse of women in conflict areas.


Issues  Addressed by Autonomous Women's  Groups - Locally and Globally

                Independent women's and feminist groups[26] have long been in existence in the former Yugoslavia. Compared to the other former communist countries, the borders of Yugoslavia were more open, allowing communication and exchange of ideas and theories with the West, including feminism. The first presentation of contemporary feminist ideas was at a Croatian sociological association meeting in 1976. Two years later  in Belgrade, the first conference, "The Woman's Questions: A New Approach" was held and  "the purpose of the meeting was to introduce ideas of feminism and begin to challenge socialist patriarchy and the assumption that women's struggle was synonymous with class struggle".[27] In 1986 feminists in Belgrade defined their group, "Women and Society" as feminist’s organization. The Yugoslav governmental organization, the Conference for the Social Activities of Women, condemned this movement by accusing this group of being an "enemy of the state," "capitalist" and “pro-feminist."[28]

During the 1990's, the democratization process brought the first multiparty elections to Yugoslavia. Throughout 1990 and 1991 women's groups organized and participated in protests calling for women's rights and the demilitarization of Yugoslavia. Prior to the outbreak of war in the Yugoslav republics, women formed organizations against mobilization for war. The Women in Black of Belgrade, an anti-war group demonstrated every day in a large town square, in addition to distributing relief to the refugee camp, and working with women refugees. As the author stated at a conference, “They decided to transform their powerlessness and despair into a feminist women's movement of resistance to nationalism, militarism and sexism."[29]

                Women's groups[30] from the former Yugoslavia have held several meetings sharing their experiences of the war or of situations close to war zones, talking about the predicament of war. In Belgrade and in Zagreb, the Center for Rape Victims was established in late 1993 for the support and aid of women regardless of their nationality. The Center for Women War Victims (CWWV) from Zagreb (Croatia) states in a "Letter of Intentions" forwarded to women's and peace organizations world wide:

We are writing this letter because we fear that the process of helping raped women is turning in a strange direction, being taken over by governmental institutions like the Ministry of Health of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, and male gynecologist in particular… We fear that the raped women could be used in political propaganda with the aim of spreading hatred and revenge, thus leading to further violence against women and to further victimization of survivors.”[31]

                Maja Korac[32] wrote that the focus on “positive linkages” among women in post-Yugoslav states has meant that these women have been actively working to establish even a minimum of cooperation with each other around those issues that are of mutual interest. At the same time, some new approaches were being introduced. Some researchers of rape in Bosnia  such as Kohn, write about "the shame that Bosnian women, meaning Bosnian Muslim women feel if raped."[33]

               There were, however, women speaking out and advocating in favor of rape victims. Most of those advocates were well-educated, urban women. Many  village women  are not informed about their rights. Others like Nusreta Sivac and Jadranka Cigelj (whose stories were covered in a documentary film: "Calling the Ghost") were both lawyers and very outspoken about the experiences they went through. On the other hand, international women's groups recognized these issues as soon as the first stories about rape were  published.

 International women’s groups had focused to support independent women's groups located in the region. The idea of an international war crimes tribunal was acceptable in the United States and so was intervention in favor of women's human rights.[34] In Europe, a large number of spontaneous women's grassroots groups emerged with hardly any focus on women's rights and their legal enforcement. To date, hardly any of the UN-led agencies in the former Yugoslavia managed more than a piecemeal approach in their dealings with women. For United Nations humanitarian aid agencies, the deterioration of security and the economic life of people mean a deterioration in aid delivery options.

      The World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna in June 1993 and  the Beijing UN Conference on Women held in 1995, were instrumental in further qualifying  women's rights claims. 

      The pressure of survivors and their advocates, together with the global women's human rights movement, will make the difference. The situation presents a historic opportunity as well as an imperative to insist on justice for the women of Bosnia as well as to press for a feminist reconceptualization of the role and legal understanding of rape in war,[35]writes Rhonda Copelon.

               According to the Report of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the Security Council's reaffirmation that rape is a “crime against humanity,” and therefore among the most egregious breaches of civilization, is profoundly important. But the meaning of this designation and its import for other contexts in which women are subjected to mass rape, apart from ethnic cleansing, is not clear. The danger, as always, is that extreme examples produce narrow principles.

              Rhonda Copeln has written eloquently about rape, “ on the positive side, the War, Crime’s Tribunal Statute correctly encompasses violations that are widespread but not necessarily systematic. Wisely, the law does not require massive numbers but specific patterns of abuse. Particularly with rape, numbers are not reliable: only a small percentage of women will ultimately come forward, and the significance of rape threatens to become drowned in statistical claims. Moreover, the statute does not require that rape be ordered or centrally organized. Commanders can be held responsible where widespread violence is known and tolerated. Under the original concept, rape should qualify as a gross act of violence and accordingly, if widespread or systematic, should independently qualify as a crime against humanity.”[36]

               We should identify women as active persons,  agents, with the power not only to reproduce, but to maintain the population-and not simply  weak targets. The objectification of women adds more grounds for targeting women. Copelon also claims that defining genocidal rape helps elucidate the nature of rape as a crime of gender as well as ethnicity.

                Charlotte Bunch, a chairperson of the Center for Women's Leadership wrote:

                          Given the formidable pressure being brought to bear by women survivors and the women's movement globally, it may well be that some few men will be indicted and even tried before the International Tribunal of national courts, at least if impunity is not again the price of peace.[37]

                           War and conflicts exist in such abundance and war crimes against women are so diverse, often perfectly invisible, numerous and interchangeable in location, that the cynicism that rape has always been part of conflict continues to serve as an explanation for the victimization itself.

                          Finally, women should not be seen only as victims of human rights abuses, but as human rights activists who participate in the whole process of human rights including respect for different approaches and experiences that women can bring.[38]

                          Women's rights enforcement in times of war is tedious and difficult. It is also absolutely necessary and indispensable.  Imaginative networks of women’s groups and organizations are required to strengthen mutual support and multicultural exchange among women.


Lessons Learned

                         The ethnic cleansing and the rape of Bosnian Muslim women and girls and, less frequently, of women of other ethnic groups in the former Yugoslavia made a difference. Rape began to be seen as a systematic attempt to extinguish the identity of women. Solidarity moved beyond humanitarian and emergency assistance into the area of women's rights. Furthermore, many victims spoke out in order to condemn the perpetuators.

               The International Criminal Tribunal in the Hague (ICTY) has the task of prosecuting persons responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in the territory of the former Yugoslavia since 1991. Formal charges were brought against some 27 persons by February 1999, and it remains to be seen how extradition patterns will work in practice. Of the 27 indictments issued by the Tribunal, 21 charged Bosnian Serbs in connection with the Omarske "Death Camp" in Northwestern Bosnia. Of these, six camp commanders are held responsible for crimes committed by close subordinates and camp guards under their command, including rape. Rape constitutes a crime under international humanitarian law and it is part of the substantive applicable law of the statute of the ICTY. Rape also constituted a crime under the criminal laws of the various republics which constituted the former Yugoslavia. Persons who do not perform the act but are indirectly involved in the commission of this crime, like decision-makers and superiors, are also responsible under the Genocide Conventions and general norms of command responsibility.

Some highlights of the jurisprudence of the international criminal tribunals include:[39]

·         rape recognized as a torture: In the Celebic case, the ICTY characterized the rape of Bosnian Serb women prisoners at the Celebic prison camp as acts of torture. The tribunal found Hazim Delic, a Bosnian Muslim deputy camp commander, guilty of a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions (torture) and war crimes (torture) for the rapes he committed. Zdravko Mucic, the Bosnian Croat camp commander, was found to have command responsibility for crimes committed at Celebici, including crimes of sexual assault.  The trial chamber emphasized that when such violence is committed against a woman because of her gender the perpetrator's intent triggers the prohibited purpose of discriminations an element of the crime of torture, just as discrimination based on ethnicity does;

·         rape recognized as a crime against humanity: In the Tadic case, the ICTY also considered the charge of rape as a crime against humanity;

·         Command responsibility for rape: In the Celebici decision, the ICTY found Zdravko Mucic guilty on the basis of command responsibility for the violations of international humanitarian was committed by guards at the camp. Those crimes included rapes and sexual assaults committed by Mucic's subordinates. Indictments against Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic charge them with command responsibility for rape and sexual assault rising to the levels of crimes against humanity. Karadzic and Mladic are not in custody.

       There are some other advocacy points. First of all, the question has come up about whether to prosecute rape in the former Yugoslavia as a war crime when it occurs as an isolated incident, or as genocide when it occurs as a systematic policy. The prosecution of rape only when it occurs as a systematic policy sets a precedent for the, far more to, prosecute rape in the context of war when it does not to fall under this description. By focusing on the unique aspect of systematic or genocidal rape, we may be forfeiting the opportunity to demand that all rape occurring in the context of war be prosecuted, not just the "special case" of Bosnia.

          Nevertheless, official recognition of the injustice women have suffered is an important element in the support of victims of rape in war. In this case, the governments of the countries (Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia) involved in the war facilitated internationalization of the Bosnian women's rape issue.

                    Also, recognition that this suffering is not an inevitable by-product of armed conflict, but a heinous war crime of central importance to political discourse on the subject of war is crucial. 

               Women will only be able to find a discourse through which they can relate their experiences without compromising their dignity, when rape in war is recognized both as a central problem of war and as a serious war crime.  Still, rape of women is taking place in many other war crises[40] around the world. The legacy of the rape of Bosnian women is the recognition of rape not only as a war crime and human rights violation, but as a political issue which has been discussed at the national and international level.









1. Allen, B. Rape Warfare - The Hidden Genocide in Bosnia-Hercegovina and Croatia, University of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis, 1996.

2. Brownmiller, S. Against  our Will; Men, Women and Rape, New York: Penguin Books, 1986.

3. Tickner, A. Gender in International Relations,  New York: Columbia University Press, 1992.

4. Copelon, R. "Surfacing Gender - Re-conceptualizing Crimes Against Women in Times of War", Mass Rape: The Was Against Women in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Ed. Alexandra Stiglmayer. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska, 1994.

5. Denitch, B. Ethnic Nationalism - The Tragic Death of Yugoslavia, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1995.

6. Banac, I. The National Question in Yugoslavia: Origins, History, Politics, Ithaca: Press, 1994.

7. Gutman, R. "Rape by Order," New York Newsday, August 23, 1992.

8. Brownmiller, S. "Making Female Bodies the Battlefield," Newsweek Jan. 4, 1993.

9. Stiglemayer, A Mass Rape: The War against Women in Bosnia-Herzegovina,  Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1994.

10. Helsinki Watch, "War Crimes in Bosnia-Herzegovina", vol. 2, New York: Human Rights Watch, 1993.

11. Lawyers Committee for Human Rights "Bi-monthly Report on War Crimes in the Former Yugoslavia," October 1994.

12. Jacobson M. & Jelincic K. Calling the Ghosts, Story about Rape, War and Women - documentary film, New York: Bowery Production, Spring 1996

13. Parker, Karen J. Chew, "Compensation for Japan's World War II - War Rape Victims," Hastings Journal of International and Comparative Law, San Francisco: Hastings Law School Spring, 1994.

14. Krill, K. "The Protection of Women in International Humanitarian Law," International Review of the Red Cross no. 249, 1 November, 1985.

15.De Preux, J. "Special Protection of Women and Children," International Review of the Red Cross, no. 248, July, 1985.

16. Ricchiardi, S. "Women Say NATO won't arrest rapists: War Crimes Suspects live Openly in Bosnia," Special to The Post-Dispatch , June 1998.

17. Bunch, Ch. "Demanding Accountability," Center for Women's Global Leadership/UNIFEM New York, 1994.

18. Milic, A.  "Women and Nationalism in the Former Yugoslavia," Funk, N. and Mueller, M. eds. Gender Politics and Post Communism: Reflections from Eastern Europe, New York: Routledge, 1993.

19. Mostov, J. "Our Women/Their Women: Symbolic Boundaries, Territorial Markers and Violence in the Balkans," Peace and Change,vol. 20, no.4 (October 1995)

20. Zarkov, D. "War Rapes in Bosnia, On Masculinity, Femininity and Power of the Rape Victim Identity",  Belgrade: Feminist Notebooks, 1997.

21. Khon, E.A., "Rape as a Weapon of War: Women's Human Rights During the dissolution of Yugoslavia,"  Golden Gate University Law Review , no.24,1996.

22. Bethke Elstains, J. "Sovereignty, Identity, Sacrifice," Gendered States V.Spike Peterson, ed. Boulder, Co: Lynne Rienner Press, 1992.

23. Pesic, V. "Serbian Nationalism and the Origins of the Yugoslav Crisis," Peaceworks edition, No. 8, Washington, D.C. : United States Institute of Peace, 1996.

24. Papic, Z. "Women's Movement in Former Yugoslavia: 1970s and 1980s,” What Can We Do for Ourselves, East European Women's Conference, Belgrade: Center for  Women's Studies Research and Communication, 1994.

25. State Commission for Gathering Facts of the Aggressor in Bosnia and Herzegovina, "Sexual Crimes of the Aggressor in Bosnia and Herzegovina," Bulletin no. 1 Sarajevo: Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, October 1992.

26. Ademir Kenovic and Danny Schehter "Borisla Herak" documentary film, SAGA, Sarajevo, New York: Globalvision 1993.

27. Dabic, V. "Rape and Sexual Abuse of Serb Women, Men and Children in Areas Controlled by Croatian and Moslem Armed Formations in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia, (1991-1993) Documentation on the Violation of Human Rights, Ethnic Cleansing and Violence by Croatian and Moslem Armed Formations Against the Serb Population in Bosnia-Herzegovina Belgrade: Serbian Council Information Center, File No. 2, January 15, 1993.

28."Women for Peace," Women for Peace Anthology, Belgrade: Women in Black, 1993.

29.Kajosevic, I. "Women in Politics," What Can We Do for Ourselves, East European Feminist conference, Belgrade 1994, Center for  Women's Studies Research and Communication, 1994.

30. United Nations Documents:

·         "Reports submitted on an exceptional basis: Bosnia and Herzegovina," Report of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Thirteenth session General Assembly Forty-ninth Session supplement No. 38 (A/49/38) New York: UN, 1994.

·         Convention of the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, UN GAOR Res. 260A (III), 9 December 1948.

·         General Assembly Document A/48/858 "Rape and Abuse of Women in the Areas of Armed Conflict in the Former Yugoslavia" Report of the Secretary-General, New York: UN, 29 January 1994.

·         Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, adopted 12 August , 1949.

·         International Tribunal for the Prosecution of Persons Responsible for Serious Violations of International  Humanitarian Law Committed in the Territory of the Former Yugoslavia since 1991: Press Release of 13 February 1995, releasing information about indictments of 21 defendants from the "Omarska Detention Camp."

·         Statute of the International Tribunal for the Prosecution of Persons Responsible for Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law Committed in the Territory of the Former Yugoslavia since 1991, New York: UN, December 1993.

·         United Nations Security Council Document S/1994/674:Letter dated 24 May 1994 from the Secretary-General to the President of the Security Council (27 May 1994), Annex: Final Report of the Commission of Experts established Pursuant to Security Council Resolution 780 1992.

·         United Nations Security Council Document S/25240. Annex I, "The European Community Investigative Mission into the Treatment of Muslim women in the Former Yugoslavia,” Report of European Community Foreign Ministers 5, New York: UN, 3 February 1993.

·         General Assembly Document A/48/858 "Rape and Abuse of Women in the Areas of Armed Conflict in the Former Yugoslavia - Report of the Secretary-General," New York, 29 January 1994.






  [1] Resolution 798, Adapted by the Security Council at its 3150th meeting, on December 18, 1992

  [2] Ibid.

[3] "The European Community Investigative Mission into the Treatment of Muslim Women in the former Yugoslavia - Report to European Community Foreign Ministers", United Nations Security Council Document S/25240 Annex I (February 3, 1993) p. 5.

  [4] Reports submitted on an exceptional basis: Bosnia and Herzegovina,Report of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women Thirteenth session General Assembly Forty-ninth Session supplement No. 38 (A/49/38) New York: UN, 1994.

General Assembly Document A/48/858 "Rape and abuse of Women in the Areas of Armed

conflict in the former Yugoslavia" Report of the secretary-general, New York: UN (1994).

United Nations Security Council Document S/1994/674:Letter dated 24 May 1994 from the secretary-general to the President of the Security Council (27 May 1994), Annex: Final Report of the Commission of Experts established Pursuant to Security Council Resolution 780 1992.

United Nations Security Council Document S/25240. Annex I, "The European Community Investigate Mission into the Treatment of Muslim women in the Former Yugoslavia Report of European Community Foreign Ministers 5, New York: UN, 3 February 1993.

General Assembly Document A/48/858 "Rape and abuse of women in the areas of armed conflict in the former Yugoslavia - Report of the secretary-general" New York, 29 January 1994.

 [5] Ibid.

 [6] Copelon R. “Surfacing Gender - Re-conceptualizing Crimes Against Women in Times of War”, Mass Rape: the War Against Women in Bosnia-Hercegovina, ed. Stiglmayer A.,University of Nebraska:Linocln, Nebraska (1994) p. 205.

  [7] “Women for Peace”, Women for Peace Anthology, Belgrade: Women in Black (1993) p.45.

 [8] "Women for Peace" Women for Peace Anthology , Belgrade: Women in Black (1993) p.45.

 [9] Mostov, J. "Our Women/Their Women: Symbolic Boundaries, Territorial Markers and Violence in the Balkans", paper in progress (1999) p.4.

[10] Brownmiller, S. Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape, New York: Penguin Books (1986) p.35.

[11] Human Rights Watch, "War Crimes in Bosnia-Herzegovina" vol. 2, New York: Human Rights Watch (1993) p. 21.

[12] Swiss, S. "Women in Bosnia," Jama vol. 270, No. 5, (August 4, 1993) p. 63.

[13] ibid p. 74.

[14] MacKinnon, C. "Mass Rape," Mass Rape: The War against Women in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press (1994) p. 750.

[15] Krill, K. "The Protection of Women in International Humanitarian Law", International Review of the Red Cross no. 249, International Committee of the Red Cross: Geneva (1 November 1985) p.

[16] De Preux, J. "Special Protection of Women and Children", International Review of the Red Cross, No. 248 (July 1985) p. 15.

[17]  International Tribunal for the Prosecution of Persons Responsible for Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law committed in the Territory of the Former Yugoslavia since 1991, Press Release of February 1995 releasing information about indictments of 21 defendants form the Omarska Detention Camp, ICTY: Hague. (1995)

[18] "Rape and Abuse of Women in the Areas of Armed Conflict in the Former Yugoslavia," Report of the Secretary General, General Assembly Document A/48/858, New York (January 29, 1994) paragraph 251.

[19] United Nations Security Council document S/1994/674, Letter dated May 24 1994 from the Secretary-General to the President of the Security Council, Annex: Final Report of the Commission of Experts Established Pursuant to Security Council Resolution 780, UN: New York, (1994)

[20] Gutman, R. "Rape by Order", New York Newsday, (August 23, 1992) p. 1.

[21] Drakulic, S. "Thousands of Lives Destroyed," Time, New York (November 1992) p. 59.

[22] Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina State’s Commission for Gathering Facts on War Crimes Bulletin No1, BiH: Sarajevo.  (October 1992)

[23] David Kalef, former employee of Rudder and Finn Public Relation firm, interview by the author (August 3, 1998)

[24] Interview with Radovan Karadzic, United Press International, Belgrade (December 23, 1992)

[25] Ambassador Herbert Occun, assistant to US special envoy for the former Yugoslavia from 1994 to 1996, interview with the author. (November 30, 1998)


[27] Papic, Z. "Women's Movement in the Former Yugoslavia: 1970s and 1980s", What Can We Do for Ourselves, Belgrade: Center for Women's Studies Research and Communication (1994) p. 19.

[28] ibid. p. 65

[29] Kajosevic, I. "Women in Politics After the Multi-Party Election in 1989", What Can We do For Ourselves ,Center for Women's Studies Research and Communication Belgrade (1994) p. 23.

40 Belgrade Groups: SOS Hotline for Women and Children Victims of Violence, Women’s house “Zaba”, Women in Black, Zest-Women’s Party, Women’s Parliament, Women’s Studies Center;

Prishtina groups: Center for Protection of Women and Children; Motrat Qiriazit, Albanian Women’s League; Sarajevo groups: Women for Women; Medica-Zenica; Zagreb Groups: B.a.B.e., SoS hotline, Kareta; Zenska Infoteka, Women and Society group, Center for victims of Rape; for further information on activities of the women’s groups in the Former Yugoslavia check the web page or

[31] CWWV, Letter of Intentions Zagreb, WWW of the Network of East-West Women, (December 21, 1992)

[32] Korac, M. Linking Arms: Women and War in post-Yugoslav States, Uppsala: Life & Peace Institute (June, 1998) p. 59.

[33] Khon, E. A. "Rape as a Weapon of War : Women's Human Rights During the Dissolution of Yugoslavia", Golden Gate University Law Review (Fall 1996) p. 24.

[34] Many protests, conferences and international meeting were held by numerous group throughout Europe and North America. Women’s Action Coalition (WAC) of New York has held big protests on the streets of New York City in 1992 and 1993. Women in Black groups were organized in about 25 cities in France, Spain, Italy, Germany, England, etc. to support women in Black of Belgrade. See in Women in Peace, Belgrade (1993, 1994, 1995).

[35] Copelon, R. ibid. p. 212.

[36] Copelon, R. ibid. p. 212.

[37] Copelon, R. ibid. 199.

[38] Bunch, Ch. "Demanding Accountability", Center for Women's Global Leadership & UNIFEM:New York (1994) p. 33.

[39] Human Rights Watch, "Sexual Violence as International Crime," Kosovo Background New York: Human Rights Watch. (May 10, 1999)

[40] Human Rights Watch, “Media Reports on Rape Cases in Kosovo province of Serbia,” Human Rights Watch. (May 29, 1999)