Rape Now A War Crime

A U.N. war crimes tribunal convicted three Bosnian Serbs standing trial on charges of rape and torture, the first case of wartime sexual enslavement to come before an international court.

As CBS News Correspondent Mark Phillips reports, Thursday's convictions were based on just 36 counts. The total number of rape victims in the Bosnian war is estimated at more than 10,000.

The tribunal convicted Dragoljub Kunarac of sexually assaulting and torturing Muslim women at rape camps during the Bosnian war, sentencing him to 28 years in prison.

The court said Kunarac was involved in a "nightmarish scheme of sexual exploitation" that was "especially repugnant."

"You abused and ravaged Muslim women because of their ethnicity, and from among their number you picked whomsoever you fancied," said the presiding judge, Florence Mumba, reading the first verdict.

The second defendant, Radomir Kovac, also was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity by rape, and sentenced to 20 years.

The third defendant, Zoran Vukovic, was convicted of raping and torturing a 15-year-old girl — who was about the same age as his own daughter — but acquitted him of most other charges for lack of evidence. He was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment.

Mumba went through the testimony of woman after woman who had told horrendous tales of rape and torture in the Bosnian town of Foca, a city Southeast of Sarajevo, after it was overrun in April 1992, when Muslims were herded into separate prison camps for men and women.

The defendants stood in silence wearing headphones as the judgment was read in somber tones.

Mumba said the defendants carried out their rape in full knowledge of the systematic attack against the Muslim population ordered by the Bosnian Serb leadership.

She told one defendant, "You personally raped witness 183 ...You further mocked the victim by laughing at her while she was raped by other soldiers and finally by saying that she would carry Serb babies and she would not know the father."

The verdict in the Foca case follows months of testimony from dozens of witnesses, including 16 former rape victims who came to The Hague to confront their alleged former tormentors. The trial began March 20.

The women told how Bosnian Serb paramilitary soldiers entered detention centers and selected women and girls as young as 12 for nightly gang-rapes and sexual torture.

They were charged with about 50 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including rape, torture, enslavement and outrages upon personal dignity. The crimes carried maximum life sentences.

The tribunal was established by the U.N. Security Council in 1993 to go after the alleged architects of the Bosnian war's bloody "ethnic cleansing" campaigns, including the former Bosnian Serb president, Radovan Karadzic, and his military chief, Ratko Mlaic, who remain at large.

The ruling marked a milestone for the recognition of women's special vulnerability during war and the need for legal sanctions to prevent them from being treated as spoils of battle. It will help set legal precedent by outlining the criteria necessary to bring future cases.

Some witnesses sobbed and others shrieked with rage as they recalled being assaulted by up to 10 soldiers at a time in classrooms of the high school where they were detained, or in soldiers' private apartments — so-called "rape camps."

The women attested to the long-lasting gynecological damage and other injuries that resulted, in many cases, in permanent infertility.

"I remember he was very forceful. He wanted to hurt me," one witness said, referring to Kunarac. "But he could never hurt me as much as my soul was hurting me."

The horrific testimony was repeated day after day by the different witnesses in order to demonstrate that rapes were carried out in a systematic and organized fashion — the essential ingredients of a crime against humanity.

Although women's identities were disguised from the public by electronic voice and image scrambling, they testified in full view of the defendants.

Last July, Bosnian Serb lawyers opened their defense, seeking unsuccessfully to get the torture counts thrown out. They did not deny the occurrence of widespread rapes in Foca, but they maintained the women who testified had been willing partners. One defendant's lawyer claimed the defendant was a victim of sexual coercion; another claimed a witness fell in love with his client and wanted to marry him.

The Yugoslav tribunal is considered to be at the vanguard on gender crimes. Its case law stipulates that witnesses who have suffered traumatic experiences are not necessarily considered unreliable, and its statute requires no corroboration of testimony from rape victims.