The Bosnian genocide is often referred to as the hidden genocide, yet it had catastrophic effects on humanity. Over 100,000 people were killed and it displaced millions of people. The genocide occurred between 1992 and 1995. The Social Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was made up of six nations under the leadership of Josip Broz Tito. Once Tito passed away in 1990, there was a power vacuum, and politicians began a nationalistic campaign pitting Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks against each other. Hence, the beginning of an “ethnic cleansing” war (Campbell, 2003 p.511). Once Milosevic was the President of Republic of Serbia, he encouraged formation of violent uprisings by Serb nationals. Milosevic was interested in creating an ethnically pure Serb nation. Milosevic’s ambition worried the nations in the federal government; hence Croatia and Slovenia declared themselves independent from the republic. However, Croatia was not allowed to leave because it had 12% of the Serbian population. Hence Croatia became a battlefield between 1991- 1996. Bosnia-Herzegovina watched the horrors in Croatia as they worried about themselves being the next victim. Bosnia-Herzegovina held a referendum in 1992 and declared itself free from the republic.
The Serbs in Bosnia were not happy about it, and they began fighting with the support of the Yugoslavian National Army. Bosnia and Croatia lacked weapons to defend themselves because the UN had enacted an embargo, thus they were victims of an endless cycle of violence, displacement and death (Schott, 2011 p.19). Serbian plan of attack entailed the following steps; concentration, decapitation, separation, evacuation ad liquidation. During concentration stage, Serbian soldiers would warn Serbians to leave the town they were about to attack and surround the city with artillery fire. The second stage involved execution of the town’s leaders, military and intelligence. On the third stage, Serbian soldiers would separate women, children and old people from “fighting group”. Women, children and old people would be taken to concentration camps, while the young people were executed. This brings me to the subject of this essay. Women were targeted in specific ways when compared to men. Unlike, the young male soldiers who were executed, women lived longer to and experience untold suffering under the Serb soldiers.
Women were interchangeably used by soldiers as sexual trophies (Lentin, 1997). This essay analyses the genocide on a gendered frame, so as to shine light on the awful atrocities women faced in the hands of Serbian militia. From a gender frame, sexual violence in war cannot be reduced to psychological attributes of the perpetrators. Genocidal rape has to be analyzed in terms of social structures. Rape in Bosnia was systematic, since it was planned. Bosnian genocide is the only genocide that women bodies were used as a battlefield. This genocide trampled upon all women rights. The Serbian militants lacked respect and sympathy for women. The Yugoslav army, Bosnian Serb forces and Chetniks came up with a sexual violence campaign against Croats and Muslim women. They killed, imprisoned, terrorized and raped women in the hope that they would leave and never come back. The attack on women was not an accident. It was premeditated as a lot of soldiers took part in sexual violence campaign. Their commanders were aware of what was going on, and they turned a blind eye.
The attackers used the Ram & Brana plan of attack (1991). The plan said that successful attacks should be the one carried out on the enemy’s weakest point. The weakest point during wars is usually women and children. By attacking the weakest point, they were able to spread panic and fear in the population hence Croats and Bosnians could only run away for safety (Abreu, 2005 p.5). Since this was an “ethnic cleansing war”, the Serbian armed forces believed that sexual violence against women was an act of tainting the bloods of the Croats and Bosnians (Allen, 1996 p. 23). Culture and religion played a big part in this war; hence the attackers believed that they were annihilating their culture through sexual violence. The Serbians waged a psychological warfare on their enemies, such that they believed that by raping women, impregnating them and forcefully aborting their fetuses they were cleansing them. The Serbian armed forces also carried out sexual assaults against men. Serbia, Bosnia and almost all Balkan nations are lawfully heterosexual nations.
Hence by raping men, they were degrading them or feminizing them and making them powerless. By raping their victims, the victims were gendered as feminine or attached with feminine qualities of vulnerability. Apart from the psychological effects of sexual violence on women, women faced a lot of physical suffering in the “rape camps”. The Serbian forces had created rape camps as a substitute for concentration camps, so that they would use them to sexually violate women. In fact the Serbian forces had a modus operandi for sexually assaulting women (Abreu, 2005 p.11). The modus operandi was characterized by three patterns; public rape of children and women in their villages, sporadic rape of women and children in concentration camps and lastly rape in death/ rape camps. During the three stages women were subjected to all kinds of violence. Women went through gang rapes, sexual mutilations, forced impregnation and childbirth, sexual abuse with foreign objects and family members were forced to rape their women. The extreme sexual violence was meant to defile, destroy the community and to make them leave.
It is obvious that the war was motivated by nationalistic intentions, but the way the war was carried out, misogyny is another probable cause of the war. Most atrocities that took place in Bosnia genocide have been termed as “femicidal” (Turpin 1998 p. 67). Bosnians and Croats have traditional cultures. Women are supposed to be pure, and when they are not pure they are ostracized from the society. After the genocide, women who were victim of sexual violence were avoided. The tainted women were no longer acceptable by their friends and families, and this was the goal of the Serbian perpetrators. This justifies the fact that misogyny could have been another reason for the war. In a gendered frame analysis, it is clear that there was feminization of the genocide (MacKinnon, 2006 p.18). In genocide, women are usually seen as universal victims. Sexual violence against women is seen as a mortal sin against motherhood.
The notion of ‘combat’ and battlefields are constructs of masculinity. The Serbian armed forces believed that through sexual violence campaign, they would turn their victims powerless (Femininity) analysis of war is often carried out from a masculine point of view. However, Bosnia genocide is gendered, as it represents women as victims, sexual objects, symbolic of their nation and repositories of their families. The Serbs militia believed that by defiling the women, they would be defiling the nations (Bosnia and Croatia) Collins (1996) attempts to explain genocidal rape from a feminist perspective, he says that women are the ones who hold families and the community. Their physical and emotional destruction through rape is a symbol of destruction of the social and cultural stability of a nation. The sexual violence involved heightened sadism, for instance forceful rape with family members. The sexual violence aimed at destroying the victims emotionally, destroying the community and imposing restrictions on women so as to control births. The sexual genocide did not only target the individual victim, but it targeted the group too. Rape as a genocide strategy destroys women’s role as mothers and caregivers, hence the pivotal source of the life to the community is destroyed.
According to Mc Kinnon (2006, 187), sexual campaign was used by the Serbian military as a tool for political campaign, soldiers were to rape under orders. The sexual violence campaign was characterized by forced rape and forced impregnation. After the Croatian and muslim women were sexually abuse, they were denied abortions so that they would give birth to “Serb” babies. Forced impregnation was seen as a way of destroying the maternal community as they gave birth to the child of the enemy ( Allen, 1996 p.76). The rapists violated the rights of women through forceful procreation, which is a deliberate and a sadist act. The children of the rapists often stigmatized or abandoned as they brought negative memories to their mothers. The forced pregnancies on rape victims were seen as a way of preventing births among the Croats and Muslims. The perpetrators of rape believed that they were producing “Little Chetniks”. From a feminist perspective, the act of forced impregnation is like imposing a social death on the victims. The women were tortured, and they did not want those children. It turned Croatian and Muslim women as gestating beings for the enemy.
Stories from the war show a lot of women who recounted how they were raped repeatedly until they were pregnant, and the women wanted nothing to do with the children. Another explanation of forced rape is the fact that rape was used as a tool of biological warfare. Forced rape and impregnation meets the requirement of biological warfare according to international law (Seifet, 1996 p.42). MacKinnon also analyzes Bosnian rape by comparing it with pornography. In the 1990s, pornography was very common in Yugoslavia. When porn is common in a society, the whole population learns to dehumanize women and inflict sexual assault. Pornographic materials provided the need motivation and materials for Serbian forces. In the rape camps, women were ordered to perform for men; in fact some rapes were filmed and sold as pornographic products since they could not be differentiated from actual pornography. The films were even released in the media so as to amass popularity for Bosnian war. The dialogues in the pornography were used to implicate Croatian soldiers. According to MacKinnon (2006), sexual violence was used so consciously and cynically in a way that destroyed people.
Once pornography was released, more Serbian forces were encouraged to continually assault women. Genocidal rape in Bosnia was seen as an ethno marker. Ethnic markers are things such as dressing, lifestyle and language. The Serbians, Croats and Bosnians had almost similar ethnic markers. Since they were a part of Yugoslavia republic, the ethnic lines had been blurred. Rape was used by the Serbs to act as a moral ethno marker, as it separated them from the Croats and Muslims. They felt that it created cultural superiority of the Serbians. In fact Serbian law was amended to include ethnic rape, and they believed that the differences in ethnicity aggravated the crime. The mass rapes occurred in places where Serbs were a minority when compared to the size of Croats and Muslims (Allen, 1996 p.19). This was a way of asserting their superiority in the region. Sexual violence was also used to socialize new military recruits. Rape isolated the new recruits from the community and prepared them for battlefield. In Bosnia, sexual violence perpetrated by new recruits occurred in front of other soldiers and the victims even know their perpetrators. The Bosnian war was used by the Serbs to renegotiate their relationship with the other Balkan nations. Rape was seen as a way of establishing new boundaries, as they felt that they were the superior ethnic group.
From a gender based analysis it is evident that the legal framework did not address the sexual violence against women in Bosnia well (MacKinnon, 2006 p.89). The law blamed the genocide on ethnicity, and disregarded the fact that it was sex based. The Serb military attack on women was premeditated and executed in three stages. The creation of rape camps shows that the intent was sexually based, in as much as it was ethnically motivated. Failure by the law to acknowledge this is a huge set back on women rights. The law perpetuates patriarchy in legal constructs in violation of women rights. Failure to acknowledge it also prevents the law from addressing the genocidal rape adequately. The law is ignoring the existence and horrifying effects of genocidal sexual terrorism to women (Abreu, 2005 p. 16). This is quite cowardly as the law uses ethnicity to cover the severe harm that women suffered in the hands of Serbian militants. The law enables the perpetrators to hide under ethnic crimes, yet they committed more inhumane atrocities. The law usually acknowledges sexual crimes, but sexual crimes during genocides were only termed as other inhumane acts. This is blatant sex discrimination propagated by the law.
In conclusion, analyzing genocide on a gender framed perspective gives various explanations and perspectives on the violence against women in Bosnia. The sexual violence against women in Bosnia genocide is distinct. Many women can recount the horror they went through in the hands of the Serbian perpetrators. The violence against women was planned as a war strategy. International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) should recognize genocidal sex terrorism, rather than hiding it under ethnic-based persecutions (Campbell, 2003 p.509). Serbian militants reduced women as a means of achieving their goals for the genocide. Addressing this problem will help the victim feel like they have achieved some semblance of justice, though nothing can compare to what they went through. Genocide sexual terrorism should be acknowledged by the law, and the legal elements regarding it should be outlined. Using a gender frame to analyze genocide helps us learn about the psychological and social reasons for rape during genocides, rather than just saying that they were raped because they belonged to the enemy’s side.
Abreu, Veronica. (2005) Women’s Bodies as Battlefields In The Former Yugoslavia: An Argument For The Prosecution Of Sexual Terrorism As Genocide And For The Recognition of Genocidal Sexual Terrorism As A Violation Of Jusc Cogens Under International Law. The Georgetown Journal of Gender and Law, Vol. V1:1 Allen, B (1996) Rape Warfare: The Hidden Genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Campbell, K., 2003, “Rape as a ‘Crime Against Humanity’: Trauma, Law and Justice in the ICTY”, Journal of Human Rights, 2(4): 507–515. Caringella, S., (2008) Addressing Rape Reform in Law and Practice, New York: Columbia University Press. Jones, Adam (2006) Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction. New York City: Routledge, 2006. MacKinnon, C., (2006) Are Women Human? And Other International Dialogues, Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press. Ringelheim, J.M. (1997) ‘Genocide and gender: a split memory’ in R. Lentin (editor) Gender and Catastrophe. London: Zed Books. Schott, R. (2011), “War Rape, Natality and Genocide”, Journal of Genocide
Research, 13(1/2): 5-21.
Seifert, R., (1996), “The Second Front: The Logic of Sexual Violence in Wars”, Women’s Studies International Forum, 19(1/2): 35–43. Turpin, J. (1998) ‘Many faces: women confronting war’ in L.A. Lorentzen and J. Turpin (editors) The Women and War Reader. New York: New York University Press.