U.S., Britain accuse Serbs of using rape as `weapon of terror'

More and more refugees call sexual assaults widespread in Kosovo

War In Yugoslavia

April 15, 1999|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- As refugees flee Kosovo with accounts of rape by Serbian police and paramilitary forces, diplomatic officials vowed yesterday to prosecute those cases as war crimes and to hold Yugoslav leaders personally responsible for instances of rape by their troops.

Meanwhile, investigators for the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague have arrived in Albania to gather evidence of war crimes.

The tribunal is building a case for indicting top-level Yugoslav officials, including President Slobodan Milosevic, for war crimes stemming from the "ethnic cleansing" campaign in Kosovo.

As the conflict wears on, more reports of rape are making their way out of Kosovo: Women raped in front of their children and families, women raped at a Serbian army camp near the Albanian border, women raped at random by the roadsides while walking in lines of refugees.

U.S. and British diplomatic officials yesterday accused Milosevic's paramilitary forces of an organized campaign to commit sexual assaults.

Clare Short, Britain's international development secretary, railed against what she called "systematic" use of rape.

"I want to remind Milosevic and those who obey his orders that mass rape has been recognized as a war crime," she said. "Records will be kept."

Rape -- long a fixture of war -- was successfully prosecuted as a war crime for the first time only last year, in a trial before the Rwanda War Crimes Tribunal. More convictions came later, stemming from the "rape camps" established in the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Rape can be prosecuted not only as a war crime and a human rights violation, but also as a crime against humanity and as an element in a campaign of genocide.

James P. Rubin, the State Department spokesman, said yesterday: "The conclusion is inescapable that Milosevic's forces are using rape as a weapon of terror in Kosovo."

One recent report detailed multiple rapes at a Serbian border post in Monice, near Albania. Last week, the Pentagon alleged that troops in a Serbian army training camp near the town of Djakovica in southwest Kosovo had raped numerous young ethnic Albanian women, killing as many as 20 of them.

The Belgrade government has dismissed the allegation of an organized rape campaign, calling it a "monstrous lie" and "fabrication" through its state news agency, Tanjug.

Sexual abuse in the civil wars that have followed the breakup of Yugoslavia frequently was tinged with nationalism.

"In Bosnia, Serb paramilitaries that did these rapes would say point-blank to women, `You're going to have a Serb baby,' " said Martina Vandenberg, a researcher with the humanitarian group Human Rights Watch. "It was an attack on the woman's identity."

Many of the Kosovar Albanian women told of being strip-searched and otherwise humiliated by Serbian troops, said Maha Muna, deputy director for the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children, who interviewed the victims in Albania about the way they had been treated as refugees.

"One woman said she was lined up at gunpoint with the women in her village, and they were told to stand, squat, stand, squat -- it felt as if it went on for half an hour," Muna said. "She said, `You cannot see the scars, but it has left scars on my psychology, in my head.' "

Used to intimidate communities, undermine family allegiances and traumatize a population, rape has been a tool of war since ancient times.

In World War II, thousands of women were raped by Russian, Japanese and German soldiers. Japanese troops sexually abused thousands of Asian women in "comfort camps.

An estimated 400,000 Bangladeshi women were raped by the Pakistan army during the Bangladesh war for independence in 1971, according to Women for Women, a Washington-based woman's advocacy group that was created in response to widespread rape in the Bosnian war.

In Rwanda in 1994, the United Nations estimates that between 250,000 and 500,000 women were raped. Most recently in Bosnia, an estimated 20,000 women were raped.

"Rape is used in war to destroy the social infrastructure of a society," said Zainab Salbi, president of Women for Women. "Rape is not unique as a strategy of war. The only thing that has changed is that it has come into the international arena as an issue of importance."

Pub Date: 4/15/99

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