Criminal Tribunal Convicts Bosnian Serbs for Crimes Against Humanity
February 23, 2001
This decision is historic because it puts those who rape and sexually enslave women on notice that they will not get away with these heinous crimes.
Regan Ralph, Women's Rights Division executive director

Human Rights Watch today welcomed the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia's (ICTY) decision to convict Dragoljub Kunarac, Radomir Kovac, and Zoran Vukovic for rape, torture, and enslavement. The decision was announced today in the Hague. The three received sentences of twenty-eight, twenty, and twelve years respectively.  
 
"This decision is historic because it puts those who rape and sexually enslave women on notice that they will not get away with these heinous crimes," said Regan Ralph, Director of the Women's Rights Division. "Finally, the international community is taking these sexual crimes -- rapes, gang rapes, and sexual enslavement of women -- seriously." Human Rights Watch described the systematic rapes in Foca in a report published in 1998, A Dark and Closed Place.  
 
These cases marked the first time in history that an international tribunal brought charges solely for crimes of sexual violence against women. The decision also marked the first time that the ICTY found rape and enslavement as crimes against humanity. The eight-month long trial included testimony of sixty-three witnesses, including sixteen victims of rape held for months in sexual slavery and subjected to multiple gang rapes by the defendants and others. The Tribunal found that the defendants had enslaved six of the women. Most importantly, although two of the women were sold as chattel by Radomir Kovac for 500 Deutsch Marks each, the Tribunal found that enslavement of the women did not necessarily require the buying or selling of a human being.  
 
"This decision sets a legal standard for sexual enslavement as a crime against humanity. This interpretation will serve as the basis to prosecute others who enslave women around the world," said Ralph.  
 
The Tribunal also held that Kunarac, a commander of a special unit of the Bosnian Serb Army, did not have command responsibility for the rapes and sexual assaults committed by soldiers who were arguably under his command. The Tribunal found that the, "prosecutor failed to show that the soldiers who committed the offenses charged in the indictment were under the effective control of Kunarac at the time they committed the offenses." Human Rights Watch is concerned about this failure to find command responsibility, but believes that the impact of the holding will be limited because of the unusual facts of this case.  
 
Human Rights Watch also expressed concern about the failure to arrest other suspects indicted for rape and other crimes of sexual violence in the Foca case. Of the original eight Foca indictees, three (Dragan Zelenovic, Gojko Jankovic, and Radovan Stankovic) still remain at large.  
 
"To shatter the cycle of impunity for sexual violence, the international community must seek out and arrest those indicted for these crimes. It is intolerable for perpetrators of rape, torture, and sexual slavery to remain free. Failure to arrest also places those witnesses who courageously came forward to testify in the Foca case in serious danger of retaliation.""  
 
Human Rights Watch is particularly concerned that Bosnian Serb war-time leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic remain at large. They are indicted for crimes committed under their command, including abuses that took place in Foca. Karadzic is believed to be in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where both the authorities and NATO troops stationed there have failed to arrest him. Mladic is believed to be in Serbia, where the new Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica has resisted international calls for his government to abide by U.N. obligations to cooperate with the tribunal.  
 
In general, the ad hoc tribunals still have a lackluster and inconsistent record on investigating and prosecuting crimes of sexual violence. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) continues to lack a comprehensive approach to the inclusion of sexual violence charges in its cases. Even in cases where the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) has witness testimony or evidence of sexual violence, as in the Cyangugu trial and the "media" trial, the OTP has failed to include these charges in the original indictments or to seek amendments to prosecute these crimes against women.  
 
"The prosecutors at the ICTR continue to treat rape and sexual violence as an afterthought, adding rape charges as amendments -- or not bothering to bring them at all, even when there is evidence," explained Ralph. "This sends a terrible message that those who commit crimes against women in other conflicts in Africa will get away with it."  
 
Human Rights Watch also expressed concern at the failure to bring indictments for rapes committed in Kosovo in 1999. "Nearly two years after the conflict in Kosovo, the Prosecutor has still not brought charges for rape and other crimes of sexual violence committed in Kosovo. The women who suffered sexual violence at the hands of Serbian police, soldiers, and paramilitaries are still waiting for justice."