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Sexual Violence: An Invisible Weapon of War in the Former Yugoslavia

NCJ Number
M C Bassiouni; M McCormick
Date Published
48 pages
Based on the Final Report of the Commission of Experts and its Annexes, published by the United Nations Security Council, this study documents the use of sexual violence as a planned instrument of war policy in the former Yugoslavia and recommends international action.
The Commission concluded that the use of sexual violence has been widespread in the conflict in the former Yugoslavia. Although it has been perpetrated by all the warring factions, the majority of victims have been Bosnian Muslims, and the majority of perpetrators have been Bosnian Serbs. This group used rape as part of a policy of terror and violence designed to achieve "ethnic cleansing." The Commission identified several patterns of sexual violence that involved victims both in and out of detention. The Commission also found many similarities in the conduct of perpetrators in diverse areas throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina between April 1992 and June 1993. The number of incidents decreased significantly in 1993, possibly in response to media attention. Although some of the sexual violence occurred sporadically, most of it was systematic and widespread, conducted in connection with efforts to displace the civilian population of a targeted ethnic group from a particular area. Sometimes field military and camp commanders explicitly ordered their subordinates to commit acts of sexual violence. In these cases, the individual commander's criminal responsibility is unequivocal. In other cases, field and camp commanders failed to prevent sexual violence and did not punish perpetrators when their crimes were disclosed. This is a violation of a commander's duties and makes the commander criminally responsible under international law. The responsibility can be traced all the way up the chain of command to those who planned the policy while pretending to know nothing about it. These are the cases that must be carefully established before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.