Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Focus on Sex Crimes

By Chris Stephen in The Hague (TU 306, 24-28 March 2003)
By IWPR

Our reports show the pain and sorrow endured by victims. One brave woman has told IWPR her sad story of a decade of anxiety and loneliness following countless rapes.


Success seems the wrong word to use in such a context, but The Hague has a good record in jailing the men responsible for some of these crimes.


Tracking down witnesses, persuading them to talk - and in some cases, even to give evidence publicly - has seen at least few of these crimes punished.


And rape is now regarded as both a war crime and crime against humanity - a warning, hopefully, for the armies of tomorrow.


Just as important, The Hague can now pass a workable system on to the new International Criminal Court to ensure that rape can continue to be prosecuted as a war crime.


This is no easy achievement. Concentration camps and the bombardment of Sarajevo were very visible crimes. The perpetrators often boasted of their successes - leaving a wide evidence trail.


But rape was always different. It was hidden. There were no written records, no secret orders, which could be used to flesh out a charge. And most rape victims keep quiet about their ordeal - preferring to keep their agony to themselves.


Yet many have testified, and some crimes have been prosecuted. It is now public knowledge that women were abused in the concentration camps, that they were kept locked up and ready for rape in apartments in Serb-held Sarajevo and Foca.


These convictions change nothing: the crime has been committed. But perhaps they will help in the future.


When a new generation of would-be nationalists searches for the records of the leaders of ethnic cleansing, they will find that these men's nationalism was a cloak for crime and bestial activity.


Chris Stephen is IWPR's project manager in The Hague.


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