The following testimony was offered by a survivor of the Susica camp in eastern Bosnia, whose commandant, Dragan Nikolic, has been charged by the International Criminal Tribunal with crimes against humanity. The witness was testifying about several young women who had been "selected" from other refugees: "They started selecting young women. The first was only 14, the second could have been 16 or 17. ... I knew them all, they were from Vlasenica. ... Then they started yelling: 'We want the Muslims to see what our seed is.' The women were never seen again. ... We know that Dragan Nikolic knows about it very well. That's what he did. ... He told us himself: "I'm the commander of the camp. I'm your God and you have no other God but me.'"
In one sense, the rapes in Bosnia are a manifestation of the toleration for and condoning of rape throughout history. Rape is also a feature of warfare, and some have argued that it is a rationale for war—that a purpose of war is the free rein it gives to rape. But the use of rape against Muslim women in Bosnia has been overwhelming even by the bleak standards of war. In one town, Foca, a rape center was set up in the former Partizan Sports Hall in May 1992. Muslim girls and women were held there, underwent continual rape and other physical violence, and also were sent out to apartments where they were held for
several days and then returned to the Partizan Hall. The organized rape of Muslim women took place throughout the portions of Bosnia occupied by the Serb military, as well as in areas controlled by Croat nationalist forces. Militiamen boasted about their gang rapes of Muslim women. Human rights reports also show rapes of Christian women, but to a lesser extent and apparently without organization and planning.
The organized rape of Bosnian women was gynocidal—a deliberate attack on women as childbearers. In this connection, Serb and Croat nationalists were aware of two facts. The first fact was that the birthrate for Muslims in Yugoslavia was higher than that of Christians, and in some rural places, such as Kosovo province, this birthrate differential was dramatic. Birthrate became so heated an issue that Serb nationalists charged Muslims with a premeditated plot to use their higher birthrates to overwhelm and ultimately destroy the Christian Serbs.
The second fact was that in traditional, Mediterranean societies women who have been raped are often unable to find a husband and have a family. Patriarchal traditions of shame and honor make it difficult—and in some cases, impossible—for women who have been raped to be accepted as wives and mothers. The organized rapes were meant to destroy the potential of the women as mothers. The statements attributed to many rapists—that the victim would bear "Serb seed"—are the flip side of this ideology: forced impregnation of Serb nationhood, a bizarre mixture of religion and biology that can only be understood against the underlying religious mythology.
The rapes were a form of desecration, closely related to the desecration of the sacred spaces symbolized by mosques. The
term for sacred space in Islam is haram , originally an Arabic term that Serb nationalists associate with one small aspect of Islamic sacred spaces, the women's quarters. Fantasies of "the harem" were commonplace among Serb nationalist clergy, academics, and soldiers. The commander of the Manjaca camp, for example, justified the attack on Muslims on the grounds that the Bosnian Muslims had a plan to seize Serb women and put them in harems. Serb religious nationalists used radio broadcasts to spread the charge that Bosnian Muslims were plotting to put Serb women in harems. Many Bosnian Serbs believed, or claimed to believe, these charges despite their being wildly, even ludicrously, inconsistent with the marriage practices of their Bosnian Muslim neighbors. The harem fantasy involves a particularly cruel version of the use of women's bodies as a battlefield. The phrase allegedly used by Dragan Nikolic, "I am your God and you have no other God but me," appears to be a play upon the Islamic declaration of faith, "There is no god but God."
A final dispossession awaited Bosnian Muslim women. Buses of refugees expelled from Serb army territory were stopped by militias and army units. From these refugees, who had already lost their communities, homes, and household possessions, everything else of possible value was now taken, from hard currency to jewelry of little value and sometimes even shoes. Stolen wedding rings—of little monetary value in relation to the enormous booty taken by the militias—represented the last symbol of group identity as well as a symbol of a future procreative possibility. The symbolism of a procreative future seems to be behind the curious obsession of some Serb religious nationalists
with stealing wedding rings from Muslim women and giving them to their own girlfriends. Genocide
The term "genocide" was coined by the jurist Rafael Lemkin as part of an effort to learn from the experience of the Holocaust and to develop an international legal consensus about certain kinds of systematic atrocities. In 1948 the term was formally adopted in the Geneva conventions, and the act of genocide was prohibited. All contracting parties, which included the NATO nations, agreed that "it is a crime under international law which they undertake to prevent and to punish." Genocide was specifically defined as acts committed to "destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such." Such acts include killing, torture, and efforts to prevent the procreation and regeneration of the targeted people.
Lemkin emphasizes that the term does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of an entire nation. Rather, it entails "a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups." Among the targets for destruction in such a plan, Lemkin lists institutions of culture, language, and national feelings, and the security of property, liberty, health, dignity, and human life. The key criterion for genocide, according to Lemkin, is that it be "directed against the national group as an entity"; violence against individuals is directed against them "not in their individual capacity, but as members of the national group."
The organized persecution in Bosnia from 1992 to 1995 was
an effort to destroy both Bosnian Muslim culture and Bosnian multireligious culture and to destroy the Bosnian Muslims as a people. The campaign was made up of interlocking elements: cultural annihilation, mass killings, organized rape, and a code of euphemisms. Although Bosnian Muslims may have survived as individuals within refugee camps, they would be destroyed as a people and culture, and Bosnia could be partitioned between the religiously purified Christian states of Serbia and Croatia.
For the NATO powers to acknowledge genocide in Bosnia would have been to acknowledge that not only were they breaking the Genocide Convention of 1948 by refusing to prevent and punish genocide, but also that they were rewarding genocide by ceding territory to forces that carried it out. The UN-imposed arms embargo had locked into place the vast Serb-army advantage in heavy weapons, violating Article 51 of the UN Charter, which guarantees every recognized nation the right to defend itself; the embargo reinforced the power imbalance that allowed genocide to be carried out with impunity.
Many have denied, without reference to the history and definition of the term, that genocide has occurred in Bosnia. These denials have done harm. No one wants to believe that a people are being exterminated because of race, religion, or ethnic identity and that governments who have the power to stop it refuse to do so. If an entire people are being killed, then on some level we may wish to believe, as we are constantly being told about Bosnia, that "there are no innocents in this war," that the people suffering deserve what they get. To acknowledge even the possibility of genocide, the mass killing of people simply because of who they are, calls into question fundamental beliefs about the
possibility of a just foundation to our existence. Denial, however thinly argued, can be effective in lessening public appetite for the difficult process of enforcing the Geneva Genocide Convention.
At the time of this writing, eight major nationalist Serb and Croat military and civil leaders and numerous lower-level soldiers and civilians have been indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal on multiple charges of crimes against humanity. Five have been indicted on the charge of genocide by the tribunal, made up of distinguished jurists from around the world. In all the indictments for genocide, the vast majority of victims were Muslims. The indictments are based upon meticulous investigations. Much of the vast collections of evidence and testimony have been available to the public since the summer of 1992. In this sense, the genocide was committed in full view of the world.
Srebrenica has become the symbol of the failure to enforce the Geneva Convention on Genocide. Srebrenica, a Muslim-majority town on the Drina River, was an ancient center of civilization in Bosnia. In 1992, as the Serb army burned its way through eastern Bosnia, thousands of refugees fled to the Srebrenica area. On April 16, 1993, as the Serb army entered the Srebrenica enclave, the United Nations declared Srebrenica a "safe area" and empowered the United Nations Protection Force in Bosnia (UNPROFOR) to supply humanitarian aid and to use the power of NATO to protect it. Less than a month later, five other besieged cities were declared safe areas.
For more than a year, the Muslims in Srebrenica lived in hunger and fear as the Serb army blocked most UN convoys into the besieged enclave, and the UN commanders refused to
use their authorized "necessary means" to break the blockade. A UN report suggesting the enclaves should be abandoned—despite the solemn UN resolutions—served as a green light to Serb army commanders. In the summer of 1995, the Serb army entered Srebrenica and another safe area, Zepa, as UN officials turned down requests for NATO air support. After the safe areas were overrun, Serb general Ratko Mladic drank a toast with the Dutch commander of the Srebrenica UN contingent, at the same time that Mladic's men were selecting out thousands of boys as young as twelve years of age, men, and some young women for torture, rape, and mass killings. Mass graves have been identified, but Serb nationalist authorities have refused war crimes investigators access to the graves. An estimated 8,000 people are missing, but after serious grave tampering, it is impossible to determine how many were killed.
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