Ethnic cleansing and war crimes, 1991-1995 – part fourteen

TransConflict is pleased to present part fourteen of a chapter of “Confronting the Yugoslav controversies – a scholars’ initiative”, entitled “Ethnic cleansing and war crimes, 1991-1995”, which “aims at describing causes, features, and consequences of ethnic cleansing as a policy in Bosnia-Hercegovina during the war.”

Suggested Reading

Conflict Background


By Marie-Janine Calic

Humiliation and Sexual Abuse

Crimes conducted in the framework of ethnic cleansing were often accompanied and reinforced by the massive humiliation of the victims, aiming at intimidating the opponent’s population and forcing it to give up its resistance. Generally, aggression combined with humiliation is successful in creating a state of instability and confusion among the targeted population and their leaders, for they show that they, obviously, are not capable of protecting their own ethnic community. This behavior is “rational” in the sense that it intends to provoke fear and instability in order to break resistance or to deter the opposing side from taking combat action.

A particularly efficient method is sexual abuse, most notably rape.[89] It was committed systematically against women of all ages, frequently in front of the victims’ relatives or in women’s camps.[90] Such assaults are especially effective in intimidating and demoralizing the opposing side, including men who play the role of warriors, defenders, husbands, and fathers. Indeed, sexual abuse is not only an instrument to intimidate and humiliate the victims and their families but also an assault on social values, family structures, and ethnic identity. In patriarchal societies women are mainly seen as responsible for the biological reproduction and cultural preservation of their ethnic community. Hence, rape not only stigmatizes individuals and families, but it also offends ethnic identities and the entire social system, especially if the role and status of men are associated with their sexuality and the women are seen as the men’s possessions. In a conflict situation, rape usually does not have a sexual function but offers satisfaction to the perpetrator through humiliation and degradation of the victim by producing a feeling of power, supremacy, and dominance. The Yugoslav war of dissolution is not the only case in which gender-specific violence was applied on a large scale and systematic raping appeared as a war tool.[91] Rape of women belonging to enemies defeated in war has been a tool in various historical contexts because these women were valued for their reproductive power. Thus the opinion of the OTP that:

like torture, rape is used for such purposes as intimidation, degradation, humiliation, discrimination, punishment, control or destruction of a person. Like torture, rape is a violation of personal dignity, and rape in fact constitutes torture when inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.[92]

The ICTY has meanwhile defined the status of rape as a crime under customary international law.[93]

It is difficult to establish the exact number of systematic rapes committed during the war. Women usually do not speak about such crimes because they are ashamed and fear social stigmatization. Figures widely differ, with initial estimates by women’s and human rights groups ranging as high as 50,000 victims. Although this number is no longer regarded as credible, it is still not possible to identify reliable data regarding rape and sexual assault. According to the International Human Rights Law Institute at DePaul University in Chicago there were approximately 1,100 reported cases of rape and sexual assault, and there were 162 detention sites where people were sexually assaulted.[94] The Association of Camp Inmates, on the other hand, claims that between 1992 and 1995 there were more than 650 camps with more than 200,000 civilians imprisoned and about 30,000 killed or missing. The association has evidence that more than 25,000 women in camps survived torture, sexual abuse, and rape.[95]

‘Ethnic cleansing and war crimes, 1991-1995′ is a component of the larger Scholars’ Initiative ‘Confronting Yugoslav Controversies’ (Second Edition), extracts of which will be published on every Friday.

Previous parts of the chapter ‘Ethnic cleansing and war crimes, 1991-1995’ are available through the following links:


89) Second Interim Report of the Commission of Experts, UN Doc. S/26545, 6 October 1993, para. 68–69.

90) Beverly Allen, Rape Warfare: The Hidden Genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996).

91) Cheryl Benard and Edit Schlaffer, Vor unseren Augen. Der Krieg in Bosnien—und die Welt schaut weg (München: Heyne, 1993).

92) ICTY, Case No. IT–95–17/1–T, 10 December 1998, Prosecutor v. Anto Furundzija, Judgement, 69,, accessed 10 October 2008.

93) ICTY, Case No. IT–96–23&IT–96–23/1–A, “Foča,” 12 June 2002, Appeals Chamber, Prosecutor v. Dragoljub Kunarac, Radomir Kovač, and Zoran Vuković, Judgement,, accessed 10 October 2008.

94) Final Report of the United Nations Commission of Experts, Annex IX: Rape and Sexual Assault, S/1994/674/Add.2 (Vol. 5), 28 December 1994, p. 7, para. 4,, accessed 10 October

95) Savez Logoraša, ed., Upoznajmo Savez Logoraša Bosne i Hercegovine (Get to Know the Union of Camp Inmates of BiH) (Sarajevo: Savez Logoraša Bosne i Hercegovine, Centar za istraživanje i dokumentaciju, 2003), 1–2.

If you are interested in writing for TransConflict, please do not hesitate to contact us with your ideas and suggestions!

What are the principles of conflict transformation?



9 Responses

  1. Pingback : Ethnic cleansing and war crimes, 1991-1995 – part eighteen

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons