Victims of cold, calculated cruelty: Leonard Doyle reports on the EC inquiry into the rape of Muslim women being used as a tactic in Bosnia's war

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The Independent Online
'It is clear that at least some of the rapes are being committed in particularly sadistic ways so as to inflict maximum humiliation on the victims. Rape has therefore become an instrument and not a by-product of war' - David Andrews, Ireland's Foreign Minister.

IT HAS taken the heart-breaking testimony of dozens of Muslim rape victims in Bosnia to draw the world's attention to the use of rape as an instrument rather than a by-product of war.

The report by EC investigators, led by Dame Anne Warburton, implicates Serbian forces in the rape of tens of thousands of Muslim women in Bosnia and focuses on allegations that a repeated feature of attacks on Muslim towns and villages was the use of rape as a weapon of terror to help depopulate entire areas of the country.

The EC investigators wanted to know whether the rapes in Bosnia should be considered a side effect of the conflict or part of a 'systematic' pattern of abuse 'taking place on the instructions of or under the direction of the commanding authorities'.

Dame Anne and the members of the mission, which included Ireland's Foreign Minister, David Andrews, say the charge that Serbian forces are engaged in the systematic rape of Muslim women on orders from the authorities remains unproven. The mission has already interviewed victims in Croatia and is due to travel to Bosnia on 17 January.

In a statement yesterday, Mr Andrews said that 'rape had become an instrument and not a by-product of the war.'

From former Yugoslavia, to Burma, Liberia and Central America, reports have been compiled by Physicians for Human Rights, a human rights group based in Massachussetts. Dr Shana Swiss, who is leading a mission to Bosnia, says that 'in war, rape is a daily part of women's lives.'

Studies of incidences of rape in Bosnia and elsewhere in former Yugoslavia point to the use of sexual abuse as an instrument of conquest. Professor Jadranka Cacic-Kumpes, from Croatia, told a recent conference on rape in Bosnia that 'raped women are not sporadic victims of violence, but a means by which to assure a more effective genocide'.

Many human rights experts claim that the Serbian authorities have directed soldiers to rape and pillage, in the full knowledge that the violation of Muslim women is all the more traumatic for the victim.

According to the writer Susan Brownmiller, rape and conquest by force have been linked since time immemorial. 'Women are raped in war by ordinary youths as casually, or frenetically, as a village is looted or gratuitously destroyed. Sexual tresspass on the enemy's women is one of the satisfactions of conquest.'

Official figures on the number of women raped in Bosnia are hard to come by, but most estimates range from 20,000 to more than 50,000, with suggestions that more than 30,000 women, mostly Muslim, have become pregnant through rape.

The issue of rape has also become a rallying call in the Balkan propaganda war, with all sides claiming to have been victimised. The overwhelming view of international human rights investigators is that the Serbian forces have been instructed to rape as part of their campaign of 'ethnic cleansing'.

Evidence collected in Croatia suggests that not only have rapes been on a massive scale, but that girls aged between seven and 14 years have been singled out for special attention. There is also evidence that the detention centre at Omarska has been used as a de facto brothel by Serbian forces. A woman from the village of Kozarac has testified to investigators that 'they take girls younger than 13 to the camp, and then young women, and then take them to be raped several times'.