'Rape camps' and other horror stories
November 1992, Living Marxism
The two-month old baby girl in the newspaper photograph looked like the
picture of innocence, but she was apparently a tragic product of evil. The
caption said that her mother, a 16-year old Bosnian Muslim, had been 'held
in a rape camp and deliberately made pregnant by Serbs'. Those Serbs again;
bomb the rape camp-running bastards.
'What can we expect next? "Serbian Dr Mengele found experimenting
on Muslim prisoners" or "Gas ovens discovered in Banja Luka"?'
(Joan Phillips, 'Lies, damn lies and Bosnia')
4 January 1993, Daily Mirror
'One Bosnian woman is said to have died after an attempt to make her give
birth to a dog....The [Serbian] concentration camp doctors are copying the
methods of Nazi wartime monster Josef Mengele, claimed German MP Stefan
But hold on a minute. That story and photograph appeared in the Mail
on Sunday on 3 January, and the Independent on Sunday a week
later. Which means that the picture was taken in late December at the earliest.
Which means that the two-month old baby was conceived around January or
February 1992. Which means that the 'rape camp' story must be rubbish, because
the war in Bosnia didn't even begin until April.
So why was this story published without question, not once but twice? Perhaps
the explanation is just that the editorial teams on British Sunday newspapers
cannot count months very well. And then again, perhaps there's more to it
Stephen King's horror stories have got nothing on the spine-chilling tales
which the Western media have been broadcasting about war crimes in Bosnia.
The most emotive ones, of course, involve babies. But if no wet-eyed child
is available, the press have turned to tales which hit that other soft spot
of the great British public: animals.
First, according to a front-page story in the Times, Bosnian Muslims
were 'fed to dogs' by Serbs (7 August 1992). Then, suggests British dignitary
Dame Anne Warburton, Serbs 'ordered' Bosnian Muslims to 'rape animals' (Times,
1 January 1993). Finally, says a German MP, at least one Bosnian Muslim
woman died after Serbian 'concentration camp doctors' implanted an animal
embryo into her womb in an attempt 'to make her give birth to a dog' (Mirror,
4 January 1993). No doubt the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty
to Animals will soon demand the right to inspect Serbian dog kennels under
armed UN escort.
These horror stories are all, surprise to say, uncorroborated. They are
typical of the rumours and exaggerations which breed like wildfire on the
fear created in a conflict like the Bosnian civil war. Nobody should be surprised
to hear such stories coming out of Bosnia or any other war-zone. The striking
thing, however, is the eagerness with which politicians and the press in
the West now endorse these incredible tales as the truth, and use them as
evidence of the need for firmer Western intervention around the world.
The saga of the 'rape camps' in Bosnia provides the worst example to date
of how a hysterical scare story can be accepted as good coin in the West.
We have been told that between 20 000 and 60 000 Muslim women have been
raped in Bosnia, and that up to 30 000 have been made pregnant. Many of
the reports claim that the Serbs have been carrying out a 'systematic campaign'
of rape or a 'deliberate policy' of getting Muslim women pregnant, organised
around 'rape camps'. The campaign has variously been described as an attempt
to destroy the Bosnian Muslims' national identity, and as a bid to breed
more Bosnian Serbs.
What are the facts? No evidence has been produced to substantiate the claims
of a 'systematic' campaign centred on 'rape camps'. Neither the International
Red Cross nor the UN High Commission for Refugees has come across any such
camp in Bosnia. The only evidence is anecdotal.
Anybody who refused to suspend their disbelief would surely find the alleged
reasons for the Serbs' 'systematic' rape campaign ridiculous. Take the claim
that the Serbs want to impregnate Muslim women with half-Serbian babies,
so as to destroy their national identity. This makes no sense. There are
no ethnic or racial differences between Serbs and Muslims in Bosnia (or
Serbs and Croats for that matter). They are all Slavs, who are simply brought
up to practise different religions - and you can't pass that on in the genes.
The flipside of this argument is that the forcible impregnation of Muslim
women is part of an organised campaign to create more children of Serbian
descent in Bosnia. This makes no sense either. If the Serbs were practising
some crazy policy of biological lebensraum, why would they let the
women wander off to have abortions, to bring the babies up as Muslims, or
to have them adopted by Croats? Then again, perhaps it is all true, and
that infamous dog-in-womb experiment was really an attempt to breed a Best
Friend for the new Serbian Master Race.
Western commentators and statesmen have not allowed the lack of facts or
sense to get in the way of a good horror story. So at the end of the Edinburgh
summit in December, the EC governments condemned the mass rape of Muslim
women in Bosnia, and despatched a mission, led by Dame Anne Warburton, to
investigate. In January, Warburton's team had to admit that they had no
proof of Serbs being 'ordered' to rape 'systematically'. But who needs proof?
In the same breath a leading team member, Irish foreign minister David Andrews,
found the Serbs guilty of deliberately using rape as 'an instrument, not
a by-product, of war'.
On 18 December, the United Nations security council voted unanimously to
condemn 'atrocities committed against women, particularly Muslim women,
in Bosnia and Herzegovina', citing 'massive, organised and systematic detention
and rape'. Fritz Kalshoven, head of a commission of jurists on Bosnia set
up by the UN security council, added that 'the numerous cases of rape amount
to a war crime when it is connected to a situation of war'.
There can be no doubt that women have been raped in the Bosnian civil war,
as in most wars. After all, rape is an act of violence and that is what
war is about. If the Western authorities want to know about the relationship
between rape and war, they might start by asking the American troops who
went to Vietnam or the British soldiers who fought in the colonies.
But the horror stories about Serbian rapists suggest much more than this.
They place a careful emphasis upon the allegedly 'systematic' and 'mass'
character of the rapes, with their talk of 'war crimes' carried out in organised
'camps' with shadowy Dr Mengele figures in the background. No opportunity
has been missed to imply parallels between the situation in Bosnia and the
Nazi experience. The message is that here is a special case of evil, and
that the West has a moral right and responsibility to intervene and end
By spreading tales like the one about the Serbian rape camps, the West has
established a new, humanitarian case for intervening in the post-Cold War
world. Whether they are launching air-strikes against Iraq, occupying Somalia
or bullying the Serbs over Bosnia, the USA and the other Western powers
now always seek to justify their actions by repeating some emotive horror
story or other. It is like a global version of the way in which the authorities
at home prey on public concerns about rape or child abuse to win support
for the police. As a result, Western intervention has become institutionalised
as a widely accepted fact of international relations today.
Yet the case of the rape camps also reveals how thin the West's horror stories
are on plot. Ask a few pertinent questions about whodunnit, and the storyline
falls apart. It becomes easy to see that these scare stories are just convenient
pretexts for cynical interventions which are really designed to demonstrate
the authority of the Western powers. As Frank Richards explains on page
18 of this issue of Living Marxism, behind the humanitarian mask
the face of Western foreign policy is as ugly as any rapist's.
The trouble today is that almost nobody is asking critical questions about
the true motives for Western intervention. Many of the erstwhile liberal
critics of Western colonialism have now become the loudest supporters of
the West invading other countries in pursuit of its bogus 'humanitarianism'.
Typical of this trend is the way that some women's groups in the West have
demanded firm action against the Serbian 'rape camps' in Bosnia. They are
effectively handing the Western powers the moral authority to stage air-strikes
The trend towards increased Western intervention in the third world and
Eastern Europe today marks a new age of global conflicts and power struggles.
It has nothing to do with humanitarianism, women's rights or the prevention
of cruelty to babies and animals. Horror stories are for frightening children.
Grown-ups, on the other hand, have to deal with the world as it really is.
Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 52, February 1993