International Case Sets Precedent for Wartime Sexual Enslavement

Rape and sexual torture of Bosnian Muslim women and girls at issue in first international trial of its kind.

BY: Jerome Socolovsky

THE HAGUE, Netherlands, Feb. 22 (AP) – A U.N. war crimes tribunal Thursday 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.

The ruling by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia contained the first conviction in history for sexual enslavement as a crime against humanity.


It 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.


Although there have been several rape convictions at both the Yugoslav tribunal and another U.N. court on the Rwandan genocide, the this case was the first international war crimes trial to focus on sexual crimes.


And despite the well-documented rape of Asian “comfort women” by Japanese soldiers during World War II, no one had been convicted before for wartime sexual enslavement, scholars say.


The judgment will help set legal precedent by describing criteria of sexual enslavement: women were detained under conditions in which they “had to do everything they were ordered to do, including the cooking and household chores;” they were reserved for specific men who repeatedly raped them and were given to other soldiers for sexual favors; and they “were effectively denied any control about their lives.”


The tribunal convicted Dragoljub Kunarac and Radomir Kovac of sexually assaulting and torturing Muslim women at rape camps during the Bosnian war. Kunaric was sentenced to 28 years imprisonment, and Kovac got 20 years.


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