Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Foca Trial: Rape Victims Speak Out
The three accused were members of Serb paramilitary formations, which seized control of the town in April 1992. During the following months, Foca was ethnically cleansed of its Muslim population.
Part of the process, according to the prosecution, focused on the widespread and organised use of rape to humiliate and terrorise Muslim families, forcing them to flee.
Foca Witness 62 was the first to appear in the witness box. A grandmother, witness 62 testified that her husband had been seized by Serb paramilitaries, who cut off his ears before killing him.
When asked by the prosecutor, "what happened to your daughter and grand-daughter", witness 62 hesitated for a long time, before bursting into tears and replying that they were both raped and abused.
The grandmother's daughter, FW 51, followed into the witness box. Witness 51 testified that during her captivity she passed through three main detention centres - Motel Buk Bijela, the Foca high school building and the Partizan Sports Hall.
She testified that she was raped once and that her daughter, 15-years-old at the time, was taken for interrogation and rape.
The youngest member of this family, from Mesaj near Foca, presented the most harrowing evidence to the court. FW 50 described how Serb forces rounded up the women and children from Mesaj following the attack on the village on July 3, 1992. They were taken to Buk Bijela, where witness 50 claimed a man called Zoran Vukovic raped her. "It was impossible to defend myself," witness 50 said. "He had a gun, and I feared for the life of my family."
After this incident, the detainees were taken to the high school building in Foca, said witness 50. The second day after her capture, the witness continued, "a group of soldiers arrived and motioned which women should go with them. They called eight women and girls, including myself."
The soldiers then chose, which soldier would take which woman. Witness 50 said one soldier then raped her for between one and one-and-a-half hours.
"'Muslims, we will show you!' he was saying. Everybody was saying that," witness 50 said. "I felt horrible. There are no words in the world I can use to describe it."
Witness 50 said one of the men who raped her was one of her neighbours. "He was 20 years older, married...It was horrible. He laughed and I had the feeling he was doing it exactly because he knew me, to cause me even more evil."
She said the women were taken from the classrooms every night. "Soldiers would point with their finger: you, and you, and you...When they returned them, they [the women] looked horrible. They cried, screamed, tore their hair."
Eleven days later, the detainees were moved to the Partizan Sports Hall, where the rapes continued. "I tried to hide beneath the blanket, or in the toilet," said witness 50. "But it did not always work."
One night, witness 50 continued, "I was taken out by two unknown soldiers, and Zoran Vukovic who had already raped me before in Buk Bijela was with them. He took me to a flat. I was raped again. When he finished, he lit a cigarette and said that he could have done even more, but that I am his daughter's peer, and that was why he would not for now."
At the request of prosecutor, Peggy Kuo, witness 50 confirmed the identity of the defendant, Zoran Vukovic, seated in the courtroom, as the same man mentioned in her testimony, the man who raped her on two occasions.
Vukovic's defence council queried witness 50's testimony regarding the alleged rape at Buk Bijela, which the witness had failed to mention to the Tribunal's investigators in earlier written statements. The defence lawyer asked witness 50 to "explain when she was telling the truth." The witness replied that she had remained silent about the first rape attack because she was "ashamed" and because it was "the first and most painful experience." She said, that even now "it is not easy for me to talk about it, but I want everything to be heard."
Another witness, FW 75, also testified last week to similar experiences to witness 50. Witness 75 said that she was taken from Buk Bijela, through the high school to the Partizan Sports Hall. She testified, however, that she had been detained for a much longer period and was taken to other "rape centres", including the infamous Karaman's house and Radomir Kovac's apartment.
Witness 75 described how her mother was killed before her eyes and testified that over 20 soldiers raped her on the first day of her detention. The rapes then became a nightly ordeal.
"One soldier would always enter, point his finger at me and one other and take us out," she said. "Five to six soldiers would be waiting for us, take turns, and then return us to school half-dead."
The witness then went on to describe in detail being raped by each of the accused during her several-month-long detention. Kunarac, she said, took her from the Partizan Hall to his Montenegrin soldiers, while Kovac kept her and several other girls like slaves in his apartment, where numerous soldiers would abuse them.
Neither witness 50 nor witness 75 can say now just how many times they were raped, they stopped counting.
Witness 75 will continue her testimony this week.
- Europe & Eurasia
- Latin America
- Middle East & North Africa
- Focus Pages
- Training & Resources
- Print Publications
- IWPR Spotlight
As coronavirus sweeps the globe, IWPR’s network of local reporters, activists and analysts are examining the economic, social and political impact of this era-defining pandemic.