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Historic war crime verdict vindicates women

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The U.N. court heard how the women were held in camps where soldiers physically exploited them  

February 23, 2001
Web posted at: 2:25 PM EST (1925 GMT)


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'Dehumanization' of women

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Abuse has many forms -- physical, verbal and emotional. Violence, too, has many categories. Traditionally, many have thought of war crimes as those that caused physical harm and death. Overworking people in labor camps, withholding food, torturing people and killing them are all examples of war crimes. Rape is a form of violence, not passion as many believe .The conviction of three Bosnians for physically exploiting women is a historic decision. It sends the message that a centuries-old practice of allowing soldiers to sexually abuse women during times of war is not acceptable.

THE HAGUE, the Netherlands -- The U.N. war crimes tribunal's historic decision to treat physical exploitation of women as a crime against humanity was broadly welcomed as three Bosnian Serbs began jail terms of up to 28 years.

Dragoljub Kunarac, Radomir Kovac and Zoran Vukovic were among Bosnian Serb troops who used rape as "an instrument of terror" in the village of Foca during the 1992-95 war in Bosnia, Judge Florence Mumba said at the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

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Women's groups, Amnesty International and the U.S. State Department welcomed the verdict, saying they "commended the international tribunal for its pursuit of accountability in these matters."

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Kunarac in court as the verdict is read out  

Presiding Judge Florence Mumba said, as she delivered the verdict: "The three accused are not ordinary soldiers who morals were merely loosened by the hardships of war ... they thrived in the dark atmosphere of the dehumanization of those believed to be enemies."

The trio, convicted of crimes against humanity, were found guilty of a range of crimes after a 10-month trial that heard harrowing evidence from 16 of their Muslim victims.

One charge heard by the court involved the physical exploitation of 12- and 15-year-old girls.

Richard Boucher, spokesman for the State Department, said: "This is an historic verdict.

"This is the first case before the international tribunal that has focused entirely on crimes of sexual violence and the first to enter a conviction."

He added: "We strongly condemn the acts that led to this case and commend the international tribunal for its pursuit of accountability in these matters."

Amnesty International said in a statement: "This verdict is a significant step for women's human rights...."

The Foca verdict also recognizes that the assaults against women formed part of a widespread and systematic attack against civilians, Amnesty International said.

Women who work with female victims in Bosnia said the verdict was a sign that society recognized the seriousness of the victims' suffering. But one Bosnian Muslim women's group said the sentences, that amounted to 60 years altogether, were too lenient and that they humiliated their victims.

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Zoran Vukovic was found guilty of torturing a 15-year-old  

Kunarac, 40, was found guilty of 11 charges involving assaults on Muslim girls and women during the 1992-95 conflict and sentenced to 28 years in jail. He was described by Mumba as being involved in a "nightmarish scheme" that was "especially repugnant." Kunarac also organized the transfer of women to other soldiers.

Kovac, 39, was sentenced to 20 years in jail on four charges, including abusing a 12-year-old girl.

Mumba said he was "morally depraved and a corrupt character."

Vukovic, also 39, was sentenced to 12 years' imprisonment on four charges, including the assault of a 15-year-old girl -- who was about the same age as his own daughter.

'Dehumanization' of women

In all, 16 women gave graphic evidence to the court.

"I think that for the whole of my life, all my life, I will feel the pain that I felt then," said one woman, who was 15 at the time.

"You abused and ravaged Muslim women because of their ethnicity, and from among their number you picked whomsoever you fancied," Mumba said.

Mumba added, that Kunarac, who along with Kovac, had used the women as domestic servants had shown the "most glaring disrespect for the women's dignity and their fundamental human rights."

Human rights groups say that in the course of the war in Bosnia tens of thousands of women were physically exploited.

Terry Taylor, of the London-based strategic think-tank, the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told CNN: "These men were involved in only a fraction of the cases...."

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Radomir Kovac was found guilty of abusing a 12-year-old girl  

"These verdicts may encourage other women to come forward and give evidence.

"I think the tribunal has been extremely successful. It's tackling people at all levels -- we have had generals and lower ranks of soldiers facing convictions.

"But there are still major players to be brought to account and there is still a long way to go."

Those indicted but still at large include the former Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic - for his part in the Bosnian conflict -- and ex-Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who is wanted for alleged crimes against humanity in Kosovo.



RELATED STORIES:
Bosnian Serbs jailed for war sex crimes
February 22, 2001
Convictions highlight tragic victims
February 22, 2001
Trial begins for Serbs charged with systematic rapes in Bosnia
March 20, 2000

RELATED SITES:
United Nations
Bosnia and Herzegovina Ministry of Foreign Affairs

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