War Rape

After watching the shocking short documentary on the rape tactics used in the Bosnian War in the 1990s, I had to know more. I was around 6 years old at the time and obviously did not learn about it at the time. Later on, I must have learned about the war at some point because I was aware a horrific war had occurred in Bosnia which is why many Bosnian refugees came to the US. Why had we not heard about the strategic rapes, though? High school students learn about war tactics in history classes, why not this tactic? Students are old enough at that point to be given this information and I believe it is important to know. Women and men alike should learn about the power struggle women face around the world and the scarring ways that sex can be used against them. Below is more information on the war in Bosnia and surrounding areas, as well as some history on the use of rape in war.


The History

The war in Bosnia was chillingly reminiscent to World War II for many Europeans. Less than 50 years after WWII destroyed much of Europe, took the lives of millions of Jews, and left populations of people devastated, an ethnic cleansing began in the Balkans. Yugoslavia was founded as a Socialist nation founded in 1943. It was a beautiful country in Eastern Europe on the Adriatic Sea. Under “President for Life” Josip Broz Tito the multi-national country experienced years of peace and economic progress. After the death of President Tito in 1980, ethnic tensions grew. Over the next ten years, politics disintegrated and the Serbs became very nationalistic and religiously fanatic. They wanted to keep power over the area while various regions of the country wanted independence. The war broke out in August of 1990.

The changing landscape of Yugoslavia:


Rape during the War

During this time in the area of what is now Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Christian Serbs and Croats were determined to clear the area of the Bosnian Muslims. This kind of ethnic cleansing has occurred all over the world including in Rwanda when the Hutus conducted a mass genocide on the Tutsis, in Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge, and of course, possibly the most well-known incident of ethnic cleansing during WWII by the Nazis. During war, rape is commonly used as psychological warfare. The “spoils” in the common war saying, “To the victors go the spoils” might refer to a number of things including land, money, and women. For centuries, rape was thought of as an inevitable part of war. It was not until the Bosnian war that rape was actually distinguished as a war crime. In December of 1992 after the rape of up to 60,000 women, the UN Security Council finally declared the “massive, organized and systematic detention and rape of women, in particular Muslim women, in Bosnia and Herzegovina” was an international crime that must be addressed. In 1993, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was the first court that included rape as a crime against humanity. As seen in the documentary, Serbian leaders were forced to face their victims and were prosecuted for their crimes. In July 2002, the International Criminal Court created the Rome Statute which states that rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced sterilization or pregnancy and “any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity” constitutes as crimes against humanity when committed in an organized, widespread manner.2 It has taken centuries of sexual violence to reach this point, but we are now making progress. Progress is difficult because it means having women who have been through war and rape to go to court and testify. This act takes extreme bravery. The bravery of these women means everything to get the criminals justly prosecuted.


  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Breakup_of_Yugoslavia-TRY2.gif
  2. http://www.un.org/en/preventgenocide/rwanda/about/bgsexualviolence.shtml

For More Information




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