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Thursday, 22 February, 2001, 19:11 GMT
Rape: A crime against humanity
Dragoljub Kunarac
Dragoljub Kunarac was sentenced to 28 years in prison
By diplomatic correspondent Barnaby Mason

The verdict passed on three Bosnian Serbs accused of systematic sexual violence against Muslim women during the Bosnian war is the first conviction by an international court in Europe where rape was formally classified as a crime against humanity.


Once it is established, the International Criminal Court will in principle be able to try rape as a crime against humanity anywhere in the world

Down the ages soldiers have raped women in the chaos of war, regarding them as a spoil of battle and usually going unpunished.

No rape charges were brought at the Nuremberg trials of prominent Nazis after the Second World War, and the Tokyo trials did not deal with the enslavement of Korean women forced to serve as prostitutes for Japanese soldiers.

The Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 does forbid the humiliating and degrading treatment of civilians in wartime.

'Crucial precedent'

It says women shall be protected against any attack on their honour - especially rape, enforced prostitution and indecent assault.

Nuremberg war trials
No rape charges were brought at the Nuremberg trials of prominent Nazis
But until the war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia was set up in 1993 there was no international means of bringing such cases to book.

Human rights groups and women campaigners believe the case has set a crucial precedent in international law.

For the thousands of other victims of rape on all sides in the Bosnian war who may never see personal justice done, it is nevertheless deeply symbolic.

Months of evidence

The task of the prosecution was to demonstrate that the rapes in the town of Foca were carried out in a systematic and organised fashion.

Tokyo war trials
The Tokyo trials did not deal with the enslavement of Korean women
The charge against the most senior of the accused said he knew or had reason to know that his subordinates sexually assaulted Muslim women.

To establish the pattern of events, dozens of women gave evidence over many months that they had been the victims of repeated rapes, including gang rapes, some on so many occasions that they lost count.

Once it is established, the International Criminal Court will in principle be able to try rape as a crime against humanity anywhere in the world.

The Court's statute agreed in the Rome treaty of 1998 covers various types of sexual violence, including forced pregnancy.

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See also:

22 Feb 01 | Europe
The nightmare of Foca
20 Feb 01 | Europe
Bosnia war criminals lose appeal
08 Dec 00 | Asia-Pacific
Sex slaves put Japan on trial
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