Rape Defined as War Crime by Tribunal

On Thursday (6-27), the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal in the Hague announced the indictment of eight Bosnian Serb military and police officers in connection with the rapes of Muslim women in the war in Bosnia. After two years of investigations, the announcements mark the first time sexual assault has been considered separately as a war crime. A spokesman for the court noted the importance of the decision, saying it “illustrates the court’s strategy to focus on gender-related crimes and give them their proper place in the prosecution of war crimes.” Postwar courts in the past have treated rape only as a secondary offense, tolerating it as part of general abusive behavior by a soldier. According to the New York Times, court officials said the indictment gives “organized rape and other sexual offenses their due place in international law as crimes against humanity.” Bosnian Serbs were the main perpetrators of using rape as a strategy to terrorize people, according to investigators of the European Union and Amnesty International who estimate that 20,000 Muslim women and girls were raped by Serbs in 1992. Many women and girls as young as 12 were detained in prison camps where they were forced to cook and clean for soldiers during the day and were gang raped every night over a period of several months. None of the eight Serbs accused of rapes committed between April 1992 and February 1993 has been arrested. Also on Thursday, the tribunal began public hearings against Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadic and Ratko Mladic whom the prosecution is accusing of being responsible for the deaths, rapes and torture of thousands of Bosnian Serbs and “the ultimate crime of genocide.”


The New York Times - June 28, 1996; Reuters - June 27, 1996

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