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Rape as strategy of war

by Aida Daidzic, 1993.

Agency news: Serb forces raped forty Muslim women from a town they captured in northern Bosnia last June, it was reported by the American publication "Newsday". "We want the world to know about our truth", said one of the young rape victims. Many said that soldiers told them they had been ordered to rape the women in the mainly Muslim towns. EXCLUSIVE PHOTOS: REF. 224 148 Andrew Kaiser-G.A.F.F./SIPA PRESS autumn ‘92.

First of all I would like to remind you of the political situation before the war. The disintegration  of Yugoslavia could not  be stopped after Tito died in 1980. From 1981 the Serbian regime in Belgrade started to act in an even  more nationalistic and chauvinist way than before. During that time, for example, the Serbian military police killed several unarmed students by  running them over with tanks at demonstrations in the mostly Albanian populated Kosovo. In 1988 the Serbian regime took  away the autonomous status of the provinces of Kosovo and Vojvodina. In this way the Serbian regime violated the constitution of Yugoslavia. During that time the Belgrade regime started  to take control of weapons from all parts of the country. It was Serbia who, with British and French support, made a request to the UN to place an arms embargo on  "the whole of Yugoslavia". The UN followed up this request in September 1991 and this arms embargo, which of course affected only those countries that didn't have weapons, provided the necessary time for the Serbian army to attack region after region. It provided them with enough time to kill and slaughter thousands of Bosnian citizens and besiege the cities of Bosnia.

Slovenia and Croatia were the first former Yugoslav republics  to vote for independance in the early summer of 1992 (in the summer of 1992 four out of the six Ex-Yugoslav republics declared themselves independent states- Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Hercegovina and Macedonia). A few weeks later, after the declarations of independence the Serbian army invaded Slovenia, then Croatia - This was an attempt by Belgrade to maintain  it's predominance and power. Thus non-Serbs all over former Yugoslavia were being killed with weapons which they themselves payed taxes for.

After Slovenia and Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina  was the third republic  to  declare its independance, after 67% of the Bosnian population declared themselves willing to live in an independent democratic state of Bosnia and Herzegovina. This election which was held on the 1/2. march 1992 was monitored by the European Community and recognized as democratic.

The very next day, on the 3rd.of March the siege and shelling of the cities of Bosnia and Herzegovina began. The JNA (Yugoslav army) which over night turned into a Serbian army, besieged and heavily attacked several Bosnian cities, especialy Sarajevo. They responded so quickly that it was apparent that they had deliberately and knowingly prepared themselves to start a war. The day after the elections the Serajevo post office went up in flames.

On 6/7 April 1992 the EC and the U.S. recognized Bosnia and Herzegovina  as an independent, sovereign state and Bosnia and Herzegovina  became a member of the UN.

Before going further, I want to stress that this article deals with the crimes  committed  by the Serbs against the civilians of Bosnia-Herzegovina at the beginning of the war. What I will not dicsuss on this occasion is that unfortunately, as the war progressed, radical Croat fascists began  to commit similar atrocities.

I had been living in Germany since 1988 and  was  living there when the shelling of Sarajevo, "my city" started. The best description of the state that I was in when the news reached me is  simply: shock! I always wonder how the people in Bosnia must have felt at  this time. I was  really paniced and kept phoning my  friends in Sarajevo which remained possible for a couple of weeks after the bombing started. I kept asking them what to do and what the situation was like over there. They told me about relatives of theirs who had fled into Sarajevo from smaller towns and villages throughout Bosnia and Hercegovina where they had witnessed the torturing and killing of people including small children. They had whitnessed the installing of concentration camps and other horrors. During these first months of the war in march, april and may 1992 I was  paralyzed - I spent weeks and weeks sitting on the couch watching television and reading the newspapers . I was  totally unable to understand what was going on and I was waiting for someone to come and stop it.

During that time I found it especially amazing that many of the people I talked to, kept justifying inaction by saying that the situation in Bosnia was too complex and incomprehensable. Obviously it' is a lot more comfortable to choose not to understand than to bear the consequences of reality. I firmly reject that anyone can seriously claim that the situation of Sarajevo is  extraordinary complex:  you have the Serbian troops  on the surrounding hills besieging  the city and you have the Bosnian population -besieged inside the city. The people in Sarajevo are Bosnians, that means there are Muslims, Catholics (in common speech incorrectly called "Croats"), Members of the Orthodox church (in common speech incorrectly called "Serbs"), Jews, Romans, Albanians , people of mixed nationalities like the Americans for example.

In August 1992 I went to Croatia, which was as close as I could get to Bosnia-Herzegovina. It was there that I met Mirsada, a sixteen year old girl who had been raped.

I will try to keep her in my mind, because I liked her from the moment I met her and I tried to help her, trying not to act pitifully towards her. She had been detained in a concentration camp near Teslic for 4 months with her mother and sister. She was raped approximately 80 times per day.

At the time I met her, she was heavily  pregnant  (in her sixth month). After she gave birth to a baby girl, she gave it up for adoption and left for Denmark. She never saw her doughter. I never asked her to talk to me about this as I was afraid my interest would appear dissrespectful and that it might hurt her.

But once, when we were just sitting and talking, she told me that  when she was in  the concerntration camp she was not allowed to sleep because the soldiers would constantly come for her, never giving  her the time or  space to sleep. This was the first time that the situation in which this girl and many other women  found themselves realy became clear and close to me.

In January 1993, the International Community organised a Peace Conference in Geneva. I had the opportunity to be there when David Owen, representative of the European Union, was addressing R. Karadzic with "your Excellency". This drove me crazy. It was unbeliveable that a representative of the international community, which David Owen is, addressed a war criminal which Radovan Karadzic is, as "your Excellency". However, this was  unfortunatly the dissapointing truth: the painfull and disapointing picture of the atitude of the international community towards  Radovan Karadzic and  the Serbian politics of genocide in Bosnia and Hercegovina.

After this it was clear to me that we must build our own structures to fight these politics. With a few friends we organised the international initiative of women from Bosnia and Hercegovina. We called it BISER. We knew that we must build our own  strategy to combat  what was happening to us.

As we were all very surprised and unprepeared for this agression it took us a great deal of time to find out what was going on and what was really hapening in our country. In order to clarify the situation we formulated the following four  questions. We believed  it would be helpful for everybody to understand what was, and is even today, going on in Bosnia and Hercegovina:

  1. Who are the victims?
  2. Where are the victims?
  3. Who are the perpetrators? i.e. Who organized the transportation and places where the victims were detained for all those months  etc.
  4. Why did the perpetrators do this? Why did they rape?

1. Who are the victims?

It was crystal clear that the victims were civilians  from Croatia and Bosnia and Hercegovina. The victims were mostly women and children. They were not soldiers. They were exclusively non-Serbs. At that time BISER  compiled a small study, in which  we found that 6.14% of Bosnian women were raped and 3.68% bacame impregnated by that rape. These are only statisitics, but they are statistics which are very large for such a small country like Bosnia and Herzegovina. For example if 6.14% of the female population of the USA were top be raped approximately 9 million American women  would be impregnated by rape.

At the same time in many Bosnian cities this scenario was  being repeated: Serbian soldiers would come into a city. They had lists of intellectuals and people in  power and with influence. Firstly they killed many of them. Then they put men and women in the main square, or in the street, or in front of their houses. They separated the men from the women, the men were killed or transported to the concerntration camps and women were raped in public. They publicly raped very old women or very young girls. Then the remaining  women were driven by cars, buses or trucks to big empty buildings, like schools, department stores, hotels or empty factories, and were held there in order to be raped.

2. Where were the victims?

The victims were definitely not in Serbia and not in Belgrade. The victims were in the territories of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia which were occupied by the Serbs.

3. Who were the perpetrators?

We know that the victims were found in the areas where the Serbian army was present. Therefore, it is easy to prove that the perpetrators were Serb soldiers - military and paramilitary. The rapes were gang rapes, committed on mass and in public.

4. Why did the perpetrators do this? Why did they rape?

The women were raped in front of their families in order to intensify the torture and to strip them of thier dignity. Futhermore, this stratergy was employed in order  to make the women wish they were dead so they would leave their homes in fear and never ever want to return. The main reason for employing the stratergy of mass rape was to make women leave thier homes indefinitely.

The best example is the situation of the Bosnian  refugee women in Germany. Some of them attempted suicide in order to escape forced repatriation.

In our civilisation, it is the men who left thier homes for good and bad reasons. The women stayed at home, maintaining  the community structure, together they  preserved the basis of our society. However, now the women  have moved as well. The consequence of this is mass migration which is broken down  the fabric of our society.

Some people have the  impression that the action of the Serbs: the torturing, the expulsions, the rape of women and men, the destruction of towns and villages all  happened  in a chaotic and confused manner. However, if one analyses  the situation more closely  one realises  that the same pattern  was repeated  throughout the whole of Bosnia and Hercegovina. One is bound to recognise a system -  a system which separates the men from the women and the children: which  destroys the family structure throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina. A system which was employed in order to conduct a war of genocide. The Serb soldiers wanted to destroy the people, not the buildings, houses, and the  infrastructure - They did not shell and bombard the cities, villiages and houses  in the teritories where they themselfes wanted to live.

We were teriffied and shocked  at the situation which surrounded us and we had the  feeling that we were living in chaos and  that nobody knew what is hapening. Then, after a long  pewriod of confusion,  we realized that there were many people who were, and still are, acting, in a very precise manner. Like parts  of  the  machine which was  carriing out the genocide in this territory and in this way the Serbs, in a similar way to the Nazis  were  destroying human life and killing people like a factory production line. As thought they were destroying useless products. It was at that time that we realized the true dimension of this genocide.

The main goal of the  agression against  Bosnia and Herzegovina was to conquore new teritory, in order to create a "Greater Serbia". Genocide (eufamism -ethnic cleansning) was a strategy of this goal and mass rape was the tool of this genocide.

It is very important for this conference to understand that rape and violence against the women in Bosnia and Hercegovina has a political dimension.


In order to hide their appeasment politics towards Bosnia and Hercegovina the international community accepted the cover-ups  which the Serbs  invented, for example:

*          The war in Bosnia and Hercegovina is a civil war -

In fact, the war in Bosnia and Hercegovina was based upon the conquering of territory, civil war never includes  teritorial questions.

*          The war is based on ancient hatreds or ethnical hatered -

In fact, life in Bosnia and Hercegovina has been, for centuries, based upon ethnic tolerance and multiculturalism

*          All  men rape, all soldiers rape in all wars -

Although, this is generally the case, rape in Bosnia and Hercegovina was systematic and orderded from above.

*          Using eufenisms like ethnic cleansing instead of genocide, or ex-Yugoslavia instead of Bosnian and Herzegovina (the real name of an  internationally recognised country)

Instead of being tried, Karadzic and Milosevic are walikng around freely. Milosevic is even promoted as a  peace maker. Every day at 2p.m. Karadzic goes  to his office which is in Lukavica (a place very close to Sarajevo held by the Serbian  goverment).  Everyone knows where to find and arrest them, but this is exactly what is not happening.

I want to emphasise that  every country in the world had a legal and moral obligation  to stop what the Serbs were doing in Bosnia and Hercegovina. In accordance with the establishment of the UN, every country has an obligation to stop genocide anywhere in the world, But nobody did. Everyone sat back and watched the Serbs and then Croats destroy Bosnia-Herzegovina through war and genocide.

rape 2

We now have the possibility to prove that the rapes committed during this war were ordered as a strategy  from the JNA army. These rapes were committed under the direct command of superiors and our ambition is to bring Karadzic and Milosevic to account for these crimes. There are many statements friom  Serbian  soldiers which  confirm that rape was a stratergy of the JNA which was ordered from above.

We should all realise that the expulsions, the shelling of the cities, the deprivation  of water and electricity for four years from the citizens of Sarajevo, forcing children to watch their mothers and fathers who  watched  their daughters being raped: All these atrocities, including mass raping and the deprivation of  water for four years from  Sarajevo have one common denominator, they are aimed at  destroying  human dignity.

These atrocities were perpetrated  in order  to destroy the dignity of Bosnian people because when the dignity of a people is destroyed, the society and individual families are also in a danger  of being be destroyed.

We understod that our first task must be the return this dignity. The first step in this atempt has to be the arrest  of war criminals . That is  equally "the small" and "big strategists  of the genocide". The second step is of course the returning  of refugees to their homes and financial help for reconstruction.

Our government presented a mandate to the War Crimes Tribunal in Den Haag, to arrest and bring war criminals to trial. A trial  has now been bought against Dusko Tadic, but there is no accusation of  rape in his case. There is another written accusation against Gargovic and eight other men in Foca,which finished six months ago. All of them are still  free and living around Foca. If you  were a refuge from Foca, would you go back there, when these fascist, rapist, war criminals are still allowed to walk in the streets of our cities, and live as your neighbors?

For us, Bosnian women trom BISER, the only right thing is  to bring Karadzic and Mladic and all other perpetrators  to trial  in Serajevo, as Eichman was trialled in Tel Aviv. Today, 1 1/2 years after the Dayton Agreement was signed - Karadzic is still free. How is it then possible to restore Bosnia-Herzegovina?

That is why the women from "BISER" International Initiative of Women from Bosnia-Hercegovina, in march 1993  bought  a trial agianst Radovan Karadzic together with one Bosnian woman and another Bosnian women's organization. Our lawyer is Catharine Mackinnon and procecution is is filed at the District Court in New York. We are only now in the process of  filing a civil procecution .

Unfortunatelly, the history of the atrocities against women, especially the rapes, is very long one. We do not want to forget  the Nazis cocentration camps or Koreas comfort women or the women of  Palestine or Bangladesh. We do not  want to allow these atrocities to ever  happen again to any woman: either in the war or in  peace: nowhere on this planet:

never, ever.

Published in "The sin of silence - risk of speech"


Commission for Gathering Facts on War Crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina

ISBN 9958-9544-0-0