Women Organize To Stop War Rapes
“He hit me on the mouth. I fainted. When I came to, I was raped again. While I was still conscious I was raped by eight of them, and I don’t know what happened afterward…One of them lay on me, pressing the barrel of his automatic weapon against my temple, looking Into my eyes for a long time. Another man was running the blade of a knife over my breasts…”
—Azra, age 15
“It looked like some kind of forest motel. The cabins were used as sentry boxes. The whole area was fenced with barbed wire….They raped us every night. There were nights when more than 20 of them came. They did all kinds of things to us…They raped and slaughtered some girls in front of us…I spent four months in that camp. It is a nightmare that cannot be described or understood.”
—Mirsada, age 17
(Accounts of Bosnian rape survivors taken from the US feminist magazine, _Ms., Vol. III, No. 4, Jan. 1993)_
Sexual violence against women and war go hand in hand. Militarists have always used the portrayal of sexual violence against women in their propaganda. In some cases rape is portrayed as a reward and a legitimate way to humiliate the ‘enemy’, as when pornographic films were shown before battle to Pakistani troops during Bangladesh’s war of Independence. In other cases, rape is used to prove that the ‘enemy’ is a barbarian, and all self-respecting men should therefore take up arms against him. Such propaganda uses women’s pain towards the same end—to motivate men to Join the military and fight.
The systematic use of rape as a weapon of terror is also not new. During the US-supported Contra war in Nicaragua, an estimated 5,000 women were kidnapped and held in Contra camps, where they were constantly sexually abused. Their release was never an issue in negotiations for peace, and no one knows what happened to them. Their fate, like the fate of the women captured and sold towards the end of the war in Afghanistan, is unknown.
The mass rapes in Bosnia are different. For the first time, feminists are demanding that war rape be seen as a serious crime.
Women on all sides of the conflict are standing up for other women. They are denouncing rape and demanding an end to the war. This is in marked contrast to militarists, who use rape for propaganda and as a way of Increasing Involvement in war.
One feminist group actively involved in drawing International attention to war rape Is Women in Black Against War, In Belgrade. “The war and national-state have drastically degraded the position of women,” an October Women in Black Against War statement reads. “First of all, the majority of refugees are women, and wherever they are moved to, other women take care of them. War has brought rape and thousands of women from all different nationalities are the victims. The rise of nationalism has introduced new population policies, such as the restriction of abortion in Croatia, which is on the way in Serbia.” Women in Black Against War have taken part in a nightly vigil for peace, which lasted for five months, in from of the Serbian Parliament. They participated in the 70,000-strong anti-war demonstration in April 1992, under the slogan “Don’t Count On Us,” where they collected money for the citizens of Sarajevo. Contact: Anti-War Center, Prote Mateje 6, 11000 Belgrade, Serbia. Tel/fax +38 11 431 298.
Anti-war women who work for SOS telefon za zene i decu zrtve nasilja (SOS telephone line for women and children victims of violence) in Belgrade are working to establish a canter for women raped in war. They want to provide counseling and material help for rape survivors. “Nationalist hatred has spread from the front line to family relationships,” they state. “Since rape has increased not only in the war zones but also in territories indirectly Involved in the war, we consider the following war-related rapes: the rape of refugee women, the rape of wives and other women by war veterans, the rape of wives in inter-ethnic marriages, and rapes as a consequence of nationalist propaganda in the media (the post television news violence syndrome).” Contact: SOS telefon, DOB-Makedonska 18, 11000 Beograd, Yugoslavia. Tel. +38 11 322 226.
Women in Croatia are also protesting war rape. On November 25, the International Day Against Violence Against Women, women members of the Anti-war Campaign of Croatia and the Independent Women’s House of Zagreb issued the following protest:
“Embittered about the very fact that the sexual abuse of women is possible at all, and that these days it has become a part of the regular practice during the war In these areas, the perverted ‘proof’ of the warrior’s power and the conqueror’s strategy, too, that rapists are already absolved of every responsibility for their crimes;
“We demand that all the camps, throughout former Yugoslavia, be immediately closed, especially those in which women are exposed to sexual abuse by warriors, to torture and to the worst forms of psychic and physical abuse, violence and humiliation;
“We demand that rape be treated as a war crime and therefore we demand that the 3rd section of the 4th Geneva Convention from 1949 regarding the legal protection of women war victims be changed;
We demand the establishment of an independent international Court whose responsibility would be to find out and punish those who are responsible for and who have committed such crimes against women;
“We appeal to all women’s organizations—the international ones and non-governmental ones—to peace groups and to women’s groups, to form independent women teams as soon as possible In order to help organize crisis centers for psychological and financial help and support to rape survivors. As for governments operating In these areas, we expect their help and cooperation, according to their authority and international conventions.”
Contact: Center for Peace, Nonviolence and Human Rights, Tkalciceva 38, 41000 Zagreb, Croatia. Tel.+38 41 422495. Fax +38 41 271143.
To demand that systematic rape be documented as a war crime; write to Professor Frits Kalshoven, Chairman, Commission of Experts on Former Yugoslavia, United Nations, Palais des Nations, Geneva 1211, Switzerland.