Bosnia rapes 'horrifying' says Amnesty

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The Independent Online
THE human rights organisation Amnesty International said yesterday that women in Bosnia have suffered 'horrifying violations - rape and sexual abuse - at the hands of the armed forces', but stopped short of accusing Serbian leaders of using rape as a weapon of war, as the European Community has alleged.

Amnesty's lengthy investigation began after journalists in Bosnia began reporting widespread rape, especially that of Muslim women, last August. 'Muslim women have been the chief victims, and the main perpetrators have been members of the Serbian armed forces,' its report says.

But the group could not confirm the EC's claim that at least 20,000 Muslim women have been raped. It pointedly warned that 'all estimates as to the number of women who have suffered rape . . . must be treated with caution'.

While most of its criticism is directed at the Serbian side, the organisation has convincing evidence that Muslim and Croatian fighters in Bosnia 'have also raped and sexually abused women, although on a much lesser scale'. It cites the beating and raping of Serbian women in Novi Grad.

However, Serbian forces are singled out for raping and pillaging 'in many places in Bosnia'. The abuse, which can be considered a war crime under the Geneva Conventions, 'has been carried out in an organised and systematic way, with the deliberate detention of women for the purpose of rape and sexual abuse', Amnesty says. On this it agrees with the classified EC investigation leaked to the Independent, stating that incidents of organised rape 'fit into the wider pattern of warfare, involving intimidation and abuses against Muslims and Croats' flowing from the Serbian policy of 'ethnic cleansing'.

It cites two Muslim women who say they were raped in early October. One, in her twenties, said she was raped by three drunk, uniformed men whom she knew, while her six-year-old child was locked away. The other woman, in her mid-sixties, was among a group of eight raped by Serbian irregulars whom she knew. 'Three of them raped her. One first forced his hand into her vagina at knife-point and then made her lick her own blood. Two of the women had their throats slit after the rapes,' Amnesty states.

The investigators found rape tends to occur in situations where the military, police or paramilitaries exploit the vulnerability of women in captured territory, in detention camps where women are being held or in specially organised brothels like the Vilina Vlas hotel near Visegrad, controlled by the Serbian paramilitary group Beli Orlovi.

One woman was gang-raped in Visegrad fire station by Serbian paramilitaries, led by the warlord and would-be politician Arkan. The report also cites the evidence of a captured Serbian soldier who confessed to raping and murdering Muslim women at the encouragement of his commander.

Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader, yesterday denied his forces were systematically raping Muslim women, and said any such assaults were isolated incidents.