Special Report: Rape Is a War Crime

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Special Report: Rape is a War Crime

Rape as an instrument of war has reached a sophisticated new level in the Balkan Crisis. A January 1993 European Commission report estimated 20,000 Slavic Muslim women and girls had been raped in Bosnia alone, with females 10 to 30 years old as primary targets. A "rape strategy" exists as part of an overall plan of ethnic cleansing, one that has been graphically documented by journalists such as USA Today's Tom Suitieri and victims rights advocates like Human Rights Watch's Dorothy Thomas, who have seen it first-hand.

I met two rape camp survivors in Bosnia this spring. They were pregnant by Serbian soldiers, and we spoke through a translator about the unrelenting rape and torture that they had endured. They were allowed to leave the camp when they became pregnant (after being raped about 10 times a day until they got that way) and past being able to abort. They were in Zagreb waiting to give birth, waiting to abandon their babies and return to their villages to try to find their families. If their families or any neighbors found out that they had been touched by a Serbian soldier, however, they would be thrown out of the village, ostracized, or even killed, because they had been disgraced. As much as they had been through, they had little to look forward to, and they had to keep their horror to themselves. The whole time we spoke they betrayed no emotion, no sorrow, no animation at all. Their lives had been destroyed.

Currently, rape is not specifically listed as a war crime according to the definitions handed down from the Fourth Geneva Convention. This is partly due to international law's continued failure to recognize gender-specific crimes. Rape is recognized by the Convention as a "crime against humanity," but not specifically as a war crime.

I have sponsored a bill in the House of Representatives which would urge the U.N. to treat rape as seriously as other violations of international human rights law, by specifically including rape as a war crime within its charter. Correcting that omission is the first step we can take toward ending this heinous situation.

Women have been raped in the name of war before, treated like property or spoils. But never has rape been a strategic plan in the larger scheme of a war before the Balkan conflict. The civilized world must do what it takes to stop it and make sure it does not happen again.

Last May the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 808, which promised justice for the victims by creating a war crimes tribunal. To date, justice is on hold while the rape continues. Since May, no judge has been appointed to review the cases, no prosecutors have been named, and few, if any, official investigations have been conducted. …