"I tried to defend myself but I couldn't. They took my clothes, they hit me, they were pulling my hair. A few days later, six soldiers came in. All of them raped me. They cursed me, insulted me, said there were too many Muslim people and said a lot of Muslims were going to give birth to Serbian children."
From an account by an 18 year old Bosnian woman.1
In peace and in war, from Sierra Leone, to East Timor to Algeria, women and girls are subjected to rape, prostitution, trafficking and other forms of gender-based violence every day. In recent conflicts, most notably in Rwanda and in the Former Yugoslavia, women and girls were systematically raped as a policy of war. In Bosnia-Herzegovina, tens of thousands of Muslim and Croat women were systematically subjected to sexual violence by Bosnian Serb forces during the genocidal campaign of "ethnic cleansing", and in Rwanda, tens if not hundreds of thousands of Tutsi women were subjected to rape and sexual slavery during the genocidal massacre by Hutu forces.
Following the atrocities of the wars in Bosnia and Rwanda, and tremendous international public pressure, the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) were created. In 1998, the ICTR found the former Mayor of Taba, Jean-Paul Akayesu, guilty of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. In this landmark case, the ICTR determined that sexual violence did constitute a form of genocide.2 Last year, a similar victory was won by Bosnian women when the ICTY found three men guilty of rape and sexual enslavement, marking the first time in history that an international tribunal brought charges solely for crimes of sexual violence against women.3
While human rights organizations around the world celebrated these victories, real justice will remain elusive until all of the perpetrators, and particularly the masterminds, of these terrible crimes are prosecuted. In this column, Equality Now calls on you to add your voice to demand justice for those women whose lives were shattered under the genocidal ethnic cleansing policy formulated by Radovan Karadzic, leader of the Bosnian Serbs and executed by Ratko Mladic, commander of the Bosnian Serb Army. Both men, indicted by the ICTY more than five years ago for "murders, rapes and sexual assaults, torture, beatings, robberies, as well as other forms of mental and physical abuse," to this day remain at large, apparently able to move around with impunity. They have never faced any judicial body that might hold them accountable for the crimes with which they are charged. Both are now widely believed to be hiding in the Republic of Srpska, the Serbian entity that is part of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Both NATO and the governments of the new republics have a mandate to detain and transfer indicted persons to the ICTY. They should ensure the arrest of Karadzic, and Mladic and turn them over to the jurisdiction of the ICTY for trial.
Please click here to lend your voice to the campaign for justice for the women of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
1. New York Times, " An old Scourge of War becomes the Latest Crime" by Barbara Crosette, June 14, 1998
2. The Prosecutor Versus Jean-Paul Akayesu (ICTR-96-4-T)
3. Kunarac and Kovac (IT-96-23) "Foca", and Vukovic (IYT-96-23/1) "Foca"