Magazine article New Internationalist

Rape: Weapon of War (the Traditional Human-Rights Image Is of a Male Prisoner of Conscience, Yet the Serbian Rape Camps in Bosnia Show That It's Often Women Who Suffer Most)

Magazine article New Internationalist

Rape: Weapon of War (the Traditional Human-Rights Image Is of a Male Prisoner of Conscience, Yet the Serbian Rape Camps in Bosnia Show That It's Often Women Who Suffer Most)

Article excerpt

THE black - and - white poster near the Sarajevo courtroom said it all: 'Borislav Herak -- War Criminal'. Inside, the 22 - year - old former textile worker stood charged with 32 murders and 16 rapes, including the murder of 12 of his 16 rape victims. The date was Friday, 12 March 1993 and Herak was the first Serb to be put on trial for war crimes in Bosnia - Herzegovina.

No - one will ever know the exact number of women and girls raped during the conflict in former Yugoslavia. But Herak's accounts of his forced participation in rapes of Bosnian Muslim women -- his commander had told him it was 'good for morale' -- accord with evidence recounted to human - rights observers and journalists throughout the region. Though all figures must be treated with caution in a war so plagued by propaganda, these witnesses tell of the organized and systematic rape of at least 20,000 women and girls by the Serbian military and the murder of many of the victims. Muslim and Croatian -- as well as some Serbian -- women are being raped in their homes, in schools, police stations and camps all over the country.

The sexual abuse of women in war is nothing new. Rape has long been tolerated as one of the spoils of war, an inevitable feature of military conflict like pillage and looting. What is new about the situation in Bosnia is the attention it is receiving -- and the recognition that it is being used as a deliberate military tactic to speed up the process of 'ethnic cleansing'. According to a recent report by European Community investigators, rapes are being committed in 'particularly sadistic ways to inflict maximum humiliation on victims, their families, and on the whole community'.(f.1) In many cases the intention is 'deliberately to make women pregnant and to detain them until pregnancy is far enough advanced to make termination impossible'. Women and girls aged anything between 6 and 70 are being held in camps throughout the country and raped repeatedly by gangs of soldiers. Often brothers or fathers of these women are forced to rape them as well. If they refuse, they are killed.

For 28 - year - old Senka, the horror began late one night in April 1992 when 10 Chetniks (Serbs) barged into her apartment in Gorazde as she was sitting talking to some friends. 'At the moment they entered,' she recounts, 'they began to curse our "Muslim mothers", saying "You sent your husbands to fight but you will see, we will do to you everything we know and we will take you to concentration camps after that".'

She and another young woman were dragged to a bedroom and repeatedly raped: 'They ripped off all my clothes till I was naked. Two of the Chetniks held me and two of them had intercourse with me. After those two had raped me, the others did the same. My friend was raped in the same room by the same soldiers. I recognized two of the Chetniks as my former neighbours from Gorazde.'

In the morning at about three o'clock, Senka came to her senses. She heard noises from the sitting room and realized that the soldiers were raping her other friends. She ran into the bathroom and managed to escape through the window. Shortly after the rape she realized she was pregnant and had to go to Sarajevo for an abortion. She is now living in a hostel for refugees there.

Any rape is monstrously unacceptable,' says Semra Turkovic, who works with survivors of rape in Zagreb. 'But what is happening at this very moment in these rape/death camps is even more horrific. This can only be considered as genocide.' She believes that the number of women raped in Bosnia exceeds even the highest estimates recorded by human - rights investigators. 'Sometimes women can never bring themselves to admit what has happened and so the crime is never reported. They feel humiliated and defiled. Their lives have been completely shattered.'

To Mubera Zdralovic, who is developing a programme of assistance in Zagreb for women left pregnant by rape, the torment endured by the thought of giving birth to a child of mass rape is often too much to bear. …

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