RAPES IN YUGOSLAVIA. SEPARATING FACT FROM FICTION
By North Amercian News Analysis Group
Since November 1992 the media has flooded our homes with stories of tens of thousands of Muslim rape victims at the hands of Serb military perpetrators. Sensational interviews, claims and condemnations have been the rule. Never has any source of this information explained the methodology by which such numbers have been determined nor what evidence other than hearsay or partial government sources were the basis of these reports. The public has understandably been outraged. This story along with the stories of the same caliber about "death camps" have resulted in the emotional outcry driving political demands for military action just to "do something".
Women's groups, municipalities, state governments etc. have been lobbied effectively by a number of interest groups -- women's, Muslim, and Croatian -- to pass resolutions condemning these outrageous "crimes against humanity" by the Serbian military violators without any adequate evidence which could support the scope of the claims. Newspaper articles are mostly cited which themselves are based on hearsay or on reports which when more closely examined, are also based on more hearsay without substantiating evidence. The truth of the matter is that the rape allegations were introduced to the public via a well orchestrated media blitz starting in November, received extensive attention and condemnation at the highest levels of national and international bodies, were examined by these bodies and, upon review of the findings resulting from these examinations, modified to reflect evidence that all military forces, Croat, Muslim and Serb have perpetrated these violations on a large scale.
Sensationalism, not fact has driven political action on this issue. An example of this dynamic is resolution AJR 10, in the California legislature. This resolution was passed unanimously in the Assembly and then scheduled for a hearing in the Rules Committee before it was to go to the Senate for final adoption. The North American News Analysis Group, NANAG, a media watch group committed to truth in media reporting, has examined this issue since November, traced the development of the rape story and its demise. NANAG was contacted to provide the report on its findings to the Rules Committee. In response, NANAG prepared and made available to the Rules Committee and the Assemblywoman who authored the report a comment on the resolution and a copy of the rape report. Unable to dispute the conclusions drawn from the documentation, the Assemblywoman pulled the resolution from the agenda of the hearings, amended it and produced a resolution condemning rapes in general in Yugoslavia.
Since then the United Nations Commission of Experts has been to Bosnia to collect ALL of the information in the hands of the Bosnian Government regarding the issue of rapes and received documentation on 126 cases. To date there has been no evidence to support any of the claims regarding the "systematic" rape of Muslim women by Serb forces in the tens of thousands.
The ease with which the anti-Serb stance of the original resolution was neutralized exemplifies how unfounded such allegations are. In fact, no group of women was exempt from this violation. Any claim otherwise is without substantiating evidence.
The Evolution of the Rape Story
The North American News Analysis Group has traced the paper trail on this specific issue to separate fact from fiction, and sensationalism and propaganda from reality. The chronology of the development of the story follows and shows how sensationalized reports generated by the Governments of Croatia and Bosnia & Hercegovina were picked up by the international community at face value, and acted upon. After more careful examination these allegations were later disqualified and modified to reflect more realistically the rape issue in the Balkan conflict. It is acknowledged, at least in the international organizations that are informed, that rape, systematic or not is being perpetrated by all sides on victims on all sides, Serb, Muslim and Croat.
April, War Breaks out in Bosnia & Hercegovina
April - November, No Reports of Systematic Rape of Muslim Women
Thorough research of press reports and international documentation during this period shows complete absence of reports of "systematic rapes" or otherwise greater than average wartime rape numbers. Refugees had been streaming into Croatia and other countries and had been interviewed for months with no indication of such allegations.
November, News Blitz of Muslim Rape Victims
Sudden reports by major press sources of massive numbers of rapes of Muslim women, without mention of rapes of Serbian women, provided by such partial sources as government sources of Croatia and Bosnia & Hercegovina. Numbers of Muslim rape victims issued by these same sources bounce all over the board, 60,000 to 10,000 casting full doubt on the validity of numbers or reliability of sources. Press and TV stories of 3-month old babies flooding hospitals inundate the media; the war started in earnest in May, 6 months earlier suggesting the rape victims were giving birth at 3 months of pregnancy -- a veritable epidemic of premature births.
December, Edinburgh Summit Declaration (Appendix 12)
Based solely on the sensational news reports (and not a single substantiated report) heads of state attending the European Summit in Edinburgh passed a declaration condemning the allegations and authorizing a delegation to investigate requiring that "this delegation must be allowed free and secure access to the places of detention in question" and calling upon the UN to adopt measures to support this mission.
December 14, EC Representatives' Letter to the UN
The Permanent Representatives of Belgium, France and the United Kingdom submit a letter including a "Declaration on the treatment of Muslim women in former Yugoslavia" (UN Document S/24960) where in the first paragraph they "condemn these acts of unspeakable brutality, which form part of a deliberate strategy to terrorize the Muslim community in B & H...". Paragraph 4 requests the UN to adopt measures to support this mission. No report on the issue accompanies this declaration as none has yet been completed.
December 18, UN Report on the Rapes of Serbian Women
A UN report s/24991 dated December 18, 1992 is available documenting testimonies of Serbian rape victims at the hands of Muslim and Croatian soldiers including brothels of Serbian girls held by Muslim soldiers in Sarajevo. This report is not released until January 5, 1993. It is the only international agency report documenting testimonies of any rape victims available to the UN at that time.
December, UN Resolution 798 and Condemnation
Based solely on paragraph 4 of the EC Declaration above (UN Document S/24960, dated December 14, 1992) the UN passed a resolution condemning "these acts of unspeakable brutality.." "of reports of the massive, organized and systematic detention and rape of women, in particular Muslim women, in B&H" and supports the EC delegation. There are still no reports or substantiated evidence of thousands of Muslim women raped nor that it is systematic. The Resolution made no mention of the rapes of Serbian women. (Attachment V)
December, UN Press Release Condemns Rapes of Muslim Women
The UN issued a press release on the above resolution, no mention of the only UN report of actual testimonies of rape victims (Serbian women).
December 18-24, EC Delegation Investigation -- Phase I
The EC delegation headed by Dame Anne Warburton including Madame Simone Veil (France) and other experts visited Zagreb where they had no direct contact with the victims "because of the lack of interpreters" and where they were not permitted to visit any centers but received instead information from the Croatian Government, and Geneva where they visited some international organizations. In their report the delegation qualified its findings by stating that "The Delegation was also aware, in examining the issue of rape against muslim women, that rape and sexual abuse are neither nationality - nor gender - restricted issues... there are also disturbing reports of rape of Croat and Serbian women..." Furthermore, "in its .. discussions with .. international organizations in Geneva, the Delegation noted "the contrast between the extensive media coverage of the alleged rapes and the lack of supporting documentary evidence in the possession of the organizations concerned".
It further stated, with a major qualifier, that "while a precise figure for the number of victims involved cannot be given... the most reasoned estimate suggested to the Delegation indicated a figure in the region of 20,000 victims." There is no substantiation of this number, nor reference to its source. It is safe to say that the source was not an international organization as they have all stated publicly that it is impossible to make a valid estimate.
January 19-26, EC Delegation Investigation -- Phase II
This time the Delegation went to Zagreb and Bosnia-Hercegovina where they met with the leaders of the Catholic and Muslim communities, field staff of the international agencies and representatives of both Croatian and Bosnian governmental and non-governmental organizations. They also conducted "a small number of in-depth interviews with individual victims." The combined findings were compiled in a report. Not the first nor the second delegation ever examined the issue of the rapes committed by Croatian and Muslim soldiers, nor did the Government sources of those two states volunteer such information. Nor did the delegation ever bother to assess the kind of or the validity of the methodology used by any of the sources to project these numbers of Muslim women raped.
January, UN Commission on Human Rights Inquiry (Appendix 10-17)
Under the leadership of the Special Rapporteur, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, and pursuant to Commission on Human Rights resolution 1992/S-1/1 and 1992/S/2-1 a second commission of inquiry went to Croatia, Bosnia & Hercegovina and Serbia to investigate the rape reports under the larger umbrella of a general human rights investigation. For that investigation an international team of medical experts was assembled who met with physicians and examined medical records, making this the first attempt by an impartial body to seek actual evidence. Their report was submitted as Annex II of the larger Mazowiecki report, E/CN.4/1993/50 February 10, 1993. Among their conclusions the victims are "said to be mainly Muslim but also Serb and Croat women." ... "Attempts made to locate specific places where women were allegedly detained and raped have proved unsucessful to date. Information provided was often too imprecise. In several cases alleged rape camps were found to be empty when visited by ICRC delegates".
The study based its findings on actual documented evidence of rapes, assumed conservative formulas of what percentage the documented cases represented of the actual cases and concluded that, based on their evidence, approximately 2,400 women, Muslim, Serb and Croat had been raped. This also is an estimate but the only estimate based on any evidence instead of hearsay. Interestingly enough, it is a far cry from the originial claims by the Governments of Croatia and Bosnia & Hercegovina of 60,000 Muslim women raped. Curiously enough, the Director of the Yugoslav Desk at the Foreign Broadcast Information Service, Washington, D.C. observed that there was a virtual absence of any reporting of the rapes of Muslim women in the government controlled Croatian press.
February, EC Declaration on the Warburton Mission (Appendix 1)
The Declaration acknowldges receipt of the report, and determines that "at a political level, the Community and its member States will approach the parties to the conflict" (assumes all parties) "to impress on them the icontrovertible nature of the evidence and the imperative need to bring these abhorrent practices to an end." (Attachment X)
February 17-18, EC Committee on Women's Rights Hearings
The hearings were held in Brussels to be based on the findings of the Warburton EC delegation. Instead, following the reports of both the EC delegation and the subsequent UN Commission on Human Rights Report the hearings resulted in the rejection of a number of the EC Delegation Reports' allegations and in the elimination of the 20,000 number for Muslim rape victims because it was deemed that "this European Community delegation to investigate the rapes of women in former Yugoslavia was neither given a broad enough remit nor sufficient resources and support to carry out its task effectively." The other critical objections as cited in the EC Report (Attachment XI) and notes on the hearings dated February 23, 1993, "Cahiers Schriftenreihe Specials," Nr #11 follow:.
Simone Veil, a high ranking French politician (and a leading critic of Serbs) and a delegate member, objected to the EC Delegation Reports because the delegation had no direct contact with the victims. The report it drew was therefore only based on indirect testimony as reported by Croatian and Muslim government sources, etc., hardly impartial;
By its own admission in the Phase II Report, the mandate of the delegation was limited to Muslim women ignoring that other women were also victimized by rape at the hands of Croatian and Muslim soldiers;
Ann Howarth of the UN High Commission for Refugees concluded that "there was lack of independent evidence about rapes";
Thierry Germond of the International Red Cross presented the conclusion "that atrocities, including rape, were being committed on all sides";
Helena Harbraken for Amnesty International stated that "based on substantiated information, abuses against women, including rape, have been widespread... and that all sides have committed the abuses";
Fritz Kalshoven, Chairman of the UN Committee on War Crimes said that while "evidence brought forward up till now may be sufficient for political bodies like the European Parliament to make political statements and activate public opinion.. it would not stand up as sound proof in Court". He also stated that "it is difficult to prove that the rapists of Bosnian women are regular Serb soldiers taking orders from their superiors."
Moreover, Dame Warburton head of the EC Delegation was conspicuously absent from the hearings. Additionally, the Serbian women who had been invited by the Commission to testify were denied visas by the Belgian Government to attend the hearings. After much criticism by the other participants the Belgian Government granted visas to only two of the invitees from Serbia to the hearings. Instead of the intended resolution citing only Muslim rape victims at the hands of Serbian soldiers, the Committee on Women's Rights drafted a resolution citing rape as a violation against all the women, Serb, Croat and Muslim at the hands of soldiers of each of the three warring groups, Serb, Croat and Muslim.
March 10, EC Votes for Resolution on Rapes
The European Parliament adopts the recommended resolution on rapes, which does not single out the Serbian soldiers as the sole perpetrators of rapes, nor Muslim women as the sole victims of the same crime.
January 29, Boutros Ghali Reports on Rapes
The Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr. Boutros Boutros Ghali issued a report on the findings of the Commission of Experts investigating war crimes in the former Yugoslavia, A/48/858 (Attachment XIII). In this report he cites that in the summer of 1993 the "Commission of Experts sent a mission to Sarajevo ... to conduct several pilot studies, including one on rape, and to receive the documentation on rape cases that the War Crimes Commission of Bosnia and Herzegovina had promised in April". In previous announcements the Bosnian Government had claimed that they had in their possession files on 15,000 cases of rapes of Muslim women by Serb men. However, the UN report continues, "During the mission, the Commission of Experts obtained from the War Crimes Commission all their information identified as relating to this issue (listing 126 victims, 113 incidents, 252 alleged perpetrators, 73 witnesses and 100 documents)." Thus ALL of the Bosnian Government information included only 126 cases of rape. This is a far cry from the 15,000 to 60,000 claimed by the same Government. To this date there has been NO EVIDENCE or reliable information accepted as legitimate by any international body that substantiates either that rapes of Muslim women by Serb men were the only cases of rape, that they were systematic nor that they were in the tens of thousands as the international political and media communities have so irresponsibly perpetrated.
This report is available in its entirety which includes complete copies of all the international reports cited above. If interested in receiving the report with all the attachments please send your inquiry to:
North American News Analysis Group
San Francisco, California
Phone: (415) 673-6279
Fax: (415) 673-1630