((summary of a speech reprinted from Wybernetz))

The War Against Women and How They Are Defending Themselves

The following article is a shortened version of the speech given by
Monika Hauser at the "International Congress on Documentation
of the Genocide in Bosnia-Hercegovina", 31.8. - 4.9.95 in Bonn.
The complete speech is available from the Medica office in
Cologne in Bosnian, German and English.

War and Violence against Women
War is destruction, destruction of physical existence,
mental integrity, living contexts, and cultural identity. But
women are also always affected by a type of violence
carried out specifically by men against them as women -
rape is a sexually-based act of violence.
Rape is a consciously hostile, degrading and brutal
act against women with the aim of terrorising them,
gaining power over them, humiliating them,
rendering them completely helpless and destroying
them. Rape is assassination of their body and soul,
their integrity and dignity. (...)
When we started our work at the Medica womens
therapy centre in Zenica, Central Bosnia, in April
1993, Central Bosnia had been transformed into an
enormous ghetto by the Serbian, and then Croatian,
blockade. All access roads were blocked and there
was no means of communication with the outside
world. The surviors of violence had practically no
possibility of getting adequate support. The town's
hospital was in an appalling state and could often
only provide first aid. The badly traumatised refugee
women and children were subjected to re-
traumatisation by the disastrous conditions in the
mass accommodation centres. (...)
The experiences discussed in this text are complied
from my talks with survivors. The women who
opened up to me or other Medica staff lived either in
one of the three Medica homes or in refugee camps
which we regularly visited.
Women from East and North Bosnia will always
carry their stories and the stories of other women
and girls with them and they all tell of shockingly
similar horrific scenarios. Villages were seized by
soldiers of the federal army and paramilitary units,
often with the threadbare justification that they were
looking for hidden weapons. The houses were
systematically searched and plundered. Members of
the Muslim cultural and political elite were often
killed on sight. Men were taken away to camps or for
forced labour and women and children were also
taken away to camps or kept in so-called prison
Time and again there were murders, terrible acts of
torture and rapes in front of the whole family or
village community. The manner in which they
tortured and killed some of the men and women was
so barbaric that the experience has been buried
forever, deep in the souls of those who were forced
to watch. Since this occurred on a regular and
extensive basis, it can be assumed that the
perpetrators were pursuing a planned methodology
of destruction and expulsion of the Bosnian-Muslim
Recounting their experiences in the internment
camps and the pattern of everyday life in the camps,
the women tell of how women and girls are selected
from the mass, firstly taken away for supposed
interrogation, questioned, mocked and beaten. They
are forced into various types of sexual intercourse,
sometimes with objects, on their own, in a group,
with one soldier or with several. They are forced to
penetrate other women with objects, to inflict obvious
pain on them, are returned and then re-selected.
Every day, every night, weeks on end, months on
end. Women are meant to get pregnant, continue to
be raped while pregnant and are only left alone
when it is too late for the pregnancy to be
The names of the Keraterm, Omarska, Trnopolje,
Manjaca and Batkovici camps will always serve as a
reminder of the terror and humiliation suffered by the
civil society of the final years of the twentieth
century. Now, the name of the Potocari industrial
region near Srebrenica also has to be added to this
list. (...)
The announcement of the Vance-Owen division plan
in spring 1993 was followed by the war within the
war; the aggression by the Croatian-Bosnian
Defence Council, HVO, who used the same methods
to expel and murder Muslim men and women in
Hercegovina and Central Bosnia. Correspondingly,
the next wave of refugee women arrived at the end
of April when the military conflicts between the HVO
and the Bosnian army came to a climax in Lasva
Valley in the region around Vitez and Busovaca near
Zenica. Here too, villages, districts and houses
under HVO occupation were searched and
plundered, once the male family members had been
murdered or taken away. Here too, mothers were
raped in front of their children - once, twice,
hundreds of times. (...)
In June 1993, the HVO and the Bosnian Serbian
army (BSA) forced their way into Zepce and
Zavidovici. Together, they pillaged and raped the
women who had been forced into brothels and
prison homes. Once again, the little children and the
old women were forced to watch. (...)
During June and July, new refugees came to Zenica
from Doboj and they too spoke of the "ethnic
cleansing". They described Doboj and the
surrounding area, occupied by the Serb soldiers, as
"one big concentration camp".
At first, only a small number of women came to us
from Hercegovina because of the road blocks. In
September, one woman walked the whole 150 km to
Zenica with her two small children. It took them six
days and they had to sleep outdoors. When they
arrived at Medica, they were completely exhausted
and extremely underweight. They had spent the
three months before their trek in an HVO internment
camp, close to Capljina, where they had had hardly
anything to eat and where the hygiene conditions
were awful. The mother had to listen helplessly from
the neighbouring room as her children cried for
hours on end. In this camp too, rape and physical
and psychological torture were part of everyday life.
A 16- year-old girl from Visegrad saw her father shot dead and his body
thrown into the Drina.
For weeks on end, she was detained in two camps and raped in the homes of
Serb soldiers. She managed to escape on a boat which she sailed along the
The river was full of corpses which she had to push away with the rudder
and she kept thinking that one of them might be her father.
Another patient and her family had been subjected to
expulsion twice. They were driven out of Gacko at
the start of the war by Serbian paramilitary troups,
and then again in July by HVO. This second
expulsion was accompanied by plundering, rape,
division of the family and two months| imprisonment
in an HVO camp near Prozor.
Many Muslim women were also raped by members
of the HVO during the conflict between the HVO and
the BH army in Vares at the end of October 1993. In
mid-November, we were allowed to look at police
files in Vares which showed that there had been at
least 13 documented rapes, but the police estimate
that the actual figure is much higher. We spoke to a
19-year-old girl who had been dragged off three
times in one night and raped in the most brutal
We also know of cases where the perpetrators were
members of the Bosnian army. The girl just
mentioned, for example, brought a Bosnian Croat
woman to us who had been raped by two Bosnian
army soldiers. Incidentally, the two women have now
become friends.
However, I should mention that final sentences have
at least been passed on both of the soldiers from
Vares. I do not know of any cases in Croatia, Serbia
or even the two self-appointed statelets "Herceg
Bosna" and "Republika Srpska" where rapists from
their own ranks have been prosecuted. Quite the
contrary - they are seen as heroes.
I have mentioned only a few examples here. These
women represent many unmentioned and unknown
fates of other Bosnian women. Under the continuing
conditions of war it is simply impossible to obtain
exact figures. Many refugee women who are still
living in the ghetto of Central Bosnia, are too
traumatised to be able to speak of the horrifc nature
of what was done to them. Their ability to suppress
the memory is their most important method of
protection in the attempt to survive, giving them the
ability to carry on, in the short-term at least.
Thousands of the women affected now live as
refugees, scattered all over the world. We will never
obtain their testimonies. How can I think of figures,
when one woman tells me she has been subjected to
rape 150 times? How many women have been killed
after how many rapes? We will never know the
answers to these questions. But I can still hear the
statements of many witnesses who told me of
murders they were forced to watch...
For me, the question of what specific support the
survivors of this aggression have been receiving for
the last two years is much more important than exact
numbers. If I look at the extent of the aggression and
the short and long term consequences for the
women and children in relation to the amount of help
being offered, the picture I come up with is a
terrifying one.
International Responsibility
Those women who have survived concentration
camps, rape camps and brothels where women are
forced into prostitution have survived a holocaust-
like situation. The whole international community is
responsible for the survivors of a holocaust.
Moreover, all of the participants in this war have
ratified international conventions opposing genocide
or violation of human rights. This too means that the
international community is responsible for the
survivors. But this responsibility has been virtually
ignored. The International Red Cross knew about
the rape camps as early as summer f93, yet there
was no outcry to the rest of the world. UNHCR also
only reacted hesitatingly to demands for systematic
investigations. These large international relief
agencies whose task, be it self-appointed or set by
the international community, is supposed to be to
protect or care for the tortured people in a war, were
only willing to help us in exceptional cases.
Whilst the politicians staged their negotiating
marathon, the Bosnian territory was reduced to
rubble. Both the policy of negotiation with the
aggressors and the attitude of the West to the
Bosnian refugees were unfortunate reminders of the
situation in Hitler|s Germany where the diplomatic
policy being practised by the League of Nations did
not stop the dictator and slammed the doors in the
Jewish refugees| faces, thus assisting the Nazis in
their "Final Solution".
The survivors of the aggression perpetrated by the
Serbs and then the Croats have been subjected to
violation of each of the ratified human rights. Today,
these people have a right to financial compensation,
therapy, and work, as well as an uncontested right of
abode in a safe country. The international
community must at least accept the responsibility for
drawing attention to wrongful deeds, if it did nothing
to prevent them in the first place.
As well as the individual violation of human rights
against the men and women of Bosnia, the violation
of International Law against the sovereign state of
Bosnia-Hercegovina, which is recognised by the UN,
has to be made public and sentence passed on the
perpetrators. War criminals must be sentenced in
accordance with criminal law at institutions such as
the war-crimes tribunal in The Hague.
Rape must finally be expressly banned as a serious
war crime in any war-like conflict. To this end, the
provisions of the four Geneva Conventions must be
extended to include the offence of rape.
On top of this, sexual torture still does not give
women grounds to be granted asylum; women
affected are only tolerated in the Federal Republic of
Germany and have to live with the constant fear of
deportation. Instead of apologies from the
international community for not having acted in good
time to prevent their suffering or providing them with
appropriate aid, the women are confronted
everywhere with ignorance, if not contempt.
The Men|s Alliance
Medica|s aim is to make sure that the topic of rape
as a war crime does not disappear from public view
as soon as it is no longer of advantage to the
politicians, war strategists or even the media to
condemn it. Just as, on the one hand, violence
against women is hushed up and not taken
seriously, and on the other hand, politicians and the
press exploit it when it meets their needs. I have to
observe that after the intense outrage expressed in
the winter of 92/93, today, two years later, it is again
mostly women that are concerned with the fate of the
survivors of this violence or who realise that the
violence is continuing, just as the war is continuing,
and that the consequences will remain for the rest of
the victims| lives.
One succinct, topical example of the lack of interest
in war crimes against women is Amnesty
International|s report of 13th August 95 concerning
crime in Srebrenica. In it, crimes against women are
afforded just two short sentences. Apart from the fact
that the whole report mercilessly trivialises the
events in Srebrenica and especially in the Dutch UN
area of Potocari, its comments on the crimes
committed against women are that numerous
witnesses tell how young women were taken out of
the convoys and that there are some concerns that
there have been isolated cases of rape and sexual
I wonder who did the research for this report and
how. I believe that the male (or female?)
investigators had no real interest in finding out about
the extent of violence against women. The reports
that we have been given by eye-witnesses suggest a
different situation than that indicated in the AI report.
Eye-witness reports describe all of the atrocities
which have been carried out by Karadzic|s wild
soldiery during the three years of this war of
conquest. They tell of expulsion, plunder, theft, wild
destruction of villages and houses, attacks on
refugees who were seeking the protection of UN
soldiers, selection of men between the ages of 14
and 70, young women being taken away, execution
of men and women, torture, mutilation and murder.
Of the 40,000 refugees expelled from Srebrenica,
thousands of men and women are still missing today.
And against this background, in this combination of
systematic and indiscriminate destruction and
despite all prior experience, there are only supposed
to have been isolated cases of rape? Whoever
believes that is simply closing their eyes to reality.
And what on earth is the significance of the belittling
word "isolated" in cases such as that of a young girl
who was raped in Potocari by 16 men, one after the
other. According to witnesses| statements, the last
one was a Dutch UNPROFOR soldier, and that the
other women and children were forced to watch?!
Such statements lead me to the sober conclusion
that Amnesty International, a human rights
organisation dominated by men, is no advocate of
women|s human rights. Crimes against women are
committed, hushed up, played down and ignored by
Unfortunately, even now only very few men have
realised that there is a huge difference beween the
number of iron-clad testimonies given by women
who have survived sexual violence, and the actual
number of victims. This fact is demonstrated just by
the high number of unrecorded cases of rape in our
societies during so-called peaceful times. But if we
don|t recognise the problem then we can|t ask the
right questions. Many women keep silent about the
sexual violence to which they have been subjected.
But this silence is not the women|s problem - it is a
problem for the society in which they live. Apart from
a few exceptions, it takes a long time before most
women, including those in Bosnia, dare to talk - if
they talk at all. And if they talk, then it is usually only
to women in whom they have built up trust. Often,
the female doctors are the first to hear the horrific
details. Whoever really wants to find out the extent
of violence against women in this war, whether they
are journalists or human rights` activists of either
sex, or even the Bosnian government, has to be
aware of this fact.
I think that, in particular, Bosnian society, its
institutions and those in authority must create a
climate of understanding which would rid the women
of their justified fears of stigmatisation, ostracisation
or even condemnation.
On the other hand, the desire to sentence the
perpetrators as war criminals must not lead to
women being pressurised or forced into giving a
statement for moral reasons, without the
psychological consequences for the women being
considered or without continuing to provide them
with physical and psychological protection.
This is particularly true of the war-crimes tribunal in
The Hague. For me, it is clear that real peace in
Bosnia-Hercegovina should rest on the perpetrators
being named and sentenced. But this should not be
at the expense of the survivors. Today, yesterday|s
HVO perpetrators sit round in the Federation|s cafZs
and there is a risk that the victims will be forgotten.
Will they also have to pay the price for the
What can The Hague offer the tortured women?
There are still many unanswered questions
concerning the specific form the protection for the
witnesses, male and female, should take. The
defence lawyers, for example, will find out their
names. Who can guarantee these women that their
names will not be passed on to the press or to other
people? Who is going to protect them from acts of
revenge? And when they return to their homes, who
is going to protect them from the stigmatisation to be
expected there? Who is going to give them
psychological support when they break down after
giving their statement or if they are further
traumatised by the actual giving of the statement?
There are various reasons why certain people are
interested in the women testifying but are these
people interested in the women|s lives after they
have testified? And will every woman be able to give
a coherent statement, with no contradictions and
with times and places off pat? What does the
pressure of having to testify in the name of the
"Fatherland", of not failing, mean for these women?
And what will happen to a woman if she does not
manage to be a "good witness for the crime against
her people?" (...)