United Nations Commission on Breaches of Geneva Law in Former Yugoslavia

A Commission of Experts was appointed in October of 1992 by the United Nations "to examine and analyze information gathered with a view to [provide] the Secretary General with its conclusions on the evidence of grave breaches on the Geneva law committed on the territory of the former Yugoslavia." Following are direct quotes from the first interim report (S/25274) taken from the book Rape Warfare: The Hidden Genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia by Beverly Allen.

55. The expression "ethnic cleansing" is relatively new. Considered in the context of the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, "ethnic cleansing" means rendering an area ethnically homogenous by using force or intimidation to remove persons of given groups from the area. "Ethnic cleansing" is contrary to international law.

56. Based on the many reports describing the policy and practices conducted in the former Yugoslavia, "ethnic cleansing" has been carried out by means of murder, torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, extrajudicial executions, rape and sexual assaults, confinement of civilian populations in ghetto areas, forcible removal displacement and deportation of civilian population, deliberate military attacks or threats of attacks on civilians and civilian areas, and wanton destruction of property. Furthermore, such acts could also fall within the meaning of the Genocide Convention.

130. Upon examination of reported information, specific studies and investigations, the Commission confirms its earlier view that "ethnic cleansing" is a purposeful policy designed by one ethnic or religious group to remove by violent and terror-inspiring means the civilian population of another ethnic or religious group from certain geographical areas. To a large extent, it is carried out in the name of misguided nationalism, historic grievances, and a powerful driving sense of revenge. This purpose appears to be the occupation of territory to the exclusion of the purged group or groups. This policy and the practices of warring factions are described separately in the following paragraphs.

131. With respect to the practices by Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia, "ethnic cleansing" is commonly used a term to describe a policy conducted in furtherance of political doctrines relating to "Greater Serbia." The policy is put into practice by Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia and their supporters in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The political doctrine consists of a complex mixture of historical claims, grievances and fears and nationalistic aspirations and expectations, as well as religious and psychological elements. The doctrine is essentially based on ethnic and religious exclusivity and the dominance of Serbs over other groups in certain historically claimed areas. These views contrast with ethnic and religious pluralism. This doctrine breeds intolerance and suspicion of other ethnic and religious groups and is conductive to violence when it is politically manipulated, as has been the case.

132. It should be emphasized that this policy and the manner in which it is carried out is supported by only some Serbs. In addition, the Commission emphasizes that responsibility for criminal conduct must be determined on an individual basis.

142. There is sufficient evidence to conclude that the practices of "ethnic cleansing" were not coincidental, sporadic or carried out be disorganized groups or bands of civilians who could not be controlled by the Bosnian-Serb leadership. Indeed, the patterns of conduct, the manner in which these acts were carried out, the length of time over which they took place and the areas in which they occurred combine to reveal a purpose, systematicity and some planning and coordination from higher authorities . . .

143. The above-mentioned factors and others indicated the existence of an element of superior direction, At the very least, the indicate a purposeful failure by superiors to prevent and punish the perpetrators once their crimes become known to the responsible commanders.

147. "Ethnic cleansing" practices committed by Bosnian Croats with support from the Republic of Croatia against Bosnian Muslims in Herzegovina are politically related. Furthermore, Croatian forces also engage in these practices against Serbs in the Krajina area and in eastern and western Slavonia. The violence committed against Serbs in these areas appears, however, to have the more defined political aim of removing them from the areas. Croats have used the Croatian Defense Council, police, armed civilians and local special forces to carry out these acts in the areas mentioned above. They have committed grave breaches of the Geneva law, including the destruction of Serb villages and churches, killing of innocent civilians, torture and forceful removal of the civilian population. In the Krajina area and in eastern and western Slavonia, the cycles of violence between Serbs and Croats started in the early part of 1991, before the war formally began. The violence continued well beyond the end of that war. Similar practices were also, on occasion, carried out by Croats against Muslims in Bosnia and Herzegovina. But, the Croatian authorities have publicly deplored these practices and sought to stop them, thereby indicating that it is not part of the Government's policy.

148. Bosnian Government forces have also committed the same type of grave breaches of the Geneva Convention against the Serbs and Croats, but not as part of a policy of "ethnic cleansing." The number of the violations, as reported, is significantly less than the reported violations allegedly committed by the other warring factions.

250. Common threads run through the cases reported whether within or outside the detention context:

(a) Rapes seem to occur in conjunction with efforts to displace the targeted ethnic group from the region. This may involve heightened shame and humiliation by raping victims in front of adult and minor family members, in front of other detainees or in public places, or by forcing family members to rape each other. Young women and virgins are targeted for rape, along with prominent members of the community and educated women;

(b) Many reports states that perpetrators said they were ordered to rape, or that the aim was to ensure that the victims and their families would never return to the area. Perpetrators tell female victims that they will bear children of the perpetrator's ethnicity, that they must become pregnant, and then hold them in custody until it is too late for the victims to get an abortion. Victims are threatened that if they ever tell anyone, or anyone discovers what has happened, the perpetrators will hunt them down and kill them;

(c) Large groups of perpetrators subject victims to multiple rapes and sexual assault. In detention, perpetrators go through the detention centres with flashlights at night selecting women and return them the next morning, while camp commanders often know about, and sometimes participate in, the sexual assaults;

(d) Victims may be sexually abused with foreign objects like broken glass bottles, guns and truncheons. Castrations are performed through crude means such as forcing other internees to bite of a prisoner's testicles.

251. Rape has been reported to have been committed by all sides to the conflict. However, the largest number of reported victims have been Bosnian Muslims, and the largest number of alleged perpetrators have been Bosnian Serbs. There are few reports of rape and sexual assault between members of the same ethnic group.

252. In Bosnia, some of the reported rape and sexual assault cases committed by Serbs, mostly against Muslims, are clearly the result of individual or small group conduct without evidence of command direction or an overall policy. However, many more seem to be a part of an overall pattern whose characteristics include: similarities among practices in non-contiguous geographic areas; simultaneous commission of other international humanitarian law violations; simultaneous military activity; simultaneous activity to displace civilian populations; common elements in the commission of rape, maximizing shame and humiliation to not only the victim, by also the victim's community; and the timing of the rapes. One factor in particular that leads to this conclusion is the large number of rapes which occurred in places of detention. These rape in detention do not appear to be random, and they indicate at least a policy of encouraging rape supported by the deliberate failure of camp commanders and local authorities to exercise command and control over the personnel under their authority.

253. These patterns strongly suggest that a systematic rape policy existed [sic] in certain areas, but it remains to be proven whether such an overall policy existed [sic]which was to apply to all non-Serbs. It is clear that some level of organization and group activity was required to carry out many alleged rapes.

These detention facilities are described in the report but it fails to remark the specific characteristics of the Serb-run rape/death camps. However it does not the following.

218. Of the 715 camps: 237 were operated by Bosnian Serbs and the former Republic of Yugoslavia; 89 were operated by the Government and army of Bosnia an Herzegovina; 77 were operated by Bosnian Croats, the Government of Croatia, the Croatian Army and the Croatian Defense Council; 4 were operated jointly by the Bosnian Government and Bosnian Croats; and 308 camps for which it is not known with certainty under whose effective control they were.

224. As the following discussion indicates, the number of camps and the number of reported violations in camps controlled by the Government of Bosnia and Herzegovina and its army are by far the lesser of the warring factions, irrespective of the ethnic or religious background of the detainees they hold. The number of reported violations by the Croatian Government, the Croatian Army and the Croatian Defense Council is larger, particularly against Serbs in Krajina and in eastern and western Slavonia and against Muslims from Bosnia and Herzegovina in Herzegovina . . .

227. Bosnian Government camps are reported to have been the site of cases of grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions. These allegations include killing and torture of Croatian and Serbian prisoners. The number of reports and allegations are, however, limited. The Commission has not been able to detect any particular patter or policy of wrongdoing. The commission has, however, ascertained that the Government of Bosnia and Herzegovina has expressed its opposition to these individual violations.

228. The Bosnian-Croat and Croatians Defence Council camps were in Herzegovina. The Croatian Government and Croatian Army operated camps were in the Krajina area, in eastern in western Slavonia and in other parts of Croatia. Grave breaches of the Geneva Convention have occurred in these facilities against Serbs and Bosnian Muslims, including killing, torture and rape. The Commission has not been able to detect a particular pattern or policy in operating these camps. The Commission has information concerning the locations and some information about the physical layout and command structure of some of these camps. The Commission also has information concerning the killings and torture inflicted on the interned population as well as the names of some perpetrators and victims. The largest number of violations reported are in the krajina and eastern and western Slavonia against Serbs and in Herzegovina by Bosnian Croats and the Croatian Defense Council against Muslims. The Government of Croatia has, since late 1993, according to information received by the Commission, condemned these violations and sought to curb their occurrences.

229. The Commission has information that Bosnian Serbs are operating camps where grave breaches of the Geneva Convention and other violations of international humanitarian law, including killing, torture and rape reportedly occur on a large scale. These camps are mostly in Bosnia and Herzegovina and hold Bosnian Muslims for the most part, but also Bosnian Croats. The Bosnian Serbs use camps to facilitate territorial and political control of a geographic region and to expel and eliminate other ethnic and religious populations from that area. The Commission has detailed information concerning some of the locations and physical layouts of some of these camps, including descriptions of the various building where prisoners are detained, interrogated, tortured and killed. The Commission also has information about some camp commanders and military units in the areas and individual violators.

This section, entitled "Bosnian Serb Republic Camps" continues describing the criminal treatment of the prisoners. Rape is so prevalent a crime in the camps that the report devotes and entire section called "Rape and other forms of sexual assault." The final paragraph of this segment is entitled "Bosnian Serb Republic Camps" in exclulsion of the Croat and Bosnian run camps. It reads as follows.

231. The Commission concludes that grave breaches of the Geneva Convention and other violations of international humanitarian law have been committed over a long period of time, on a large scale, and very frequently in the most brutal, inhuman and degrading manner. These violations are ordered by or known to the camp commanders, the local political leadership and police. Army units may or may not be involved. However, they do not intervene to stop these violations, thereby implying responsibility by omission.

In the previous page, I made mention of the special forces which were instituted by the Brana Plan and are assumed to be the major forces that perform genocidal rape and torture. The Commission's report had this to say about special forces:

121. There are 45 reported special forces, which usually operate under the command of a named individual and apparently with substantial autonomy, except when they are integrated into the regular army's plan of action. The special forces are supplied and often trained by the respective Governments that they serve. Many special forces answer only to senior political officials in the respective Governments. Such a relationship is frequently based on political allegiance and is not always publicly known. However, in time, information about the political sponsorship and support of these groups will become available. As these units usually operate independently and outside the apparent chain of command, their order of battle is not known. Notwithstanding the strong links between these units and the respective armies, the regular army failed to restrain them from the commission of grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and other violations of international humanitarian law. Among the most notorious of the special forces are Arkan's 'Tigers' and Seselj's 'White Eagles' (also referred to as 'Chetniks'). Lastly, many of these units operate throughout the territory of the former Yugoslavia. Thus the Serbian units operate in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia, and the Croatian units in Bosnia and Herzegovina. These special forces have committed some of the worst violations of international humanitarian law.

139. Special forces . . . frequently carry out "ethnic cleansing." These forces clearly seem to be supported, equipped and supplied by the Governments they serve and are allowed to operate without control by the authorities in charge. Two particular groups of special forces that have committed the largest number of reported violations are Arkan's Tigers and Seselji's White Eagles.

Both of the groups singled out are groups of Bosnian Serbs and their commanders are those that were present at the meeting for the formation of the Brana Plan.

The endnotes of the Commission's report also contain relevant information about these special forces.

24. Some of these special forces operate in localized areas, while others move freely to different theatres of operation, frequently going from one state to another within the territory of the former Yugoslavia. Several of the special forces come for Serbia proper or have close links to Serbia, like Arkan's 'Tigers,' Seselj's 'White Eagles,' Captain Dragan's forces, Serb Falcons (Sinisa Vucinic) and others. Their Serbian People's Renewal Party also had a paramilitary organization which interrelated with the White Eagles. Serbian special forces from Krajina, like 'Martic's Militia,' operate predominately in the UNPAS [United Nations Protected Areas] (Croatia). Other special forces from Croatia are tied to the Croatian government's political and army figures. The HOS [Croatian Defense Union], which is reminiscent of the Second-World-War Ustachi, for example, have been substantially absorbed into the Croatian Defence Council. The mujahidin operate independently of the Bosnian Government Army. Muslims from Bosnia and Herzegovina formed paramilitary units in 1991. Two such Muslim groups are called the Green Berets and the Patriotic League of the People. All special forces have expatriate volunteers and some use foreign mercenaries.
The endnotes go on to explain the relative identities of Arkan and Seselj, but I left them out here. This report gives some of the facts which have been significant to the United Nations. Although much of the report was left out, those parts which were included have to do with my topic specifically.

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Internatinal Gender Equality Homepage
Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, and Yugoslavia
Summary and International Solutions
Three world views on gender inequality
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