Printer-friendly versionSend by emailPDF version


'Giving Memory a Future': Confronting the Legacy of Mass Rape in Post-Conflict Bosnia-Herzegovina


Todorova, Teodora. 2011. “'Giving Memory a Future': Confronting the Legacy of Mass Rape in Post-Conflict Bosnia-Herzegovina.” Journal of International Women's Studies 12 (2): 3-15.

Author: Teodora Todorova


Responses to the prevalence of wartime rape in Bosnia-Herzegovina during the 1990s civil war has been characterised by a conflicting paradox between the international legal attempts by the ICTY to prosecute perpetrators, and Bosnian society’s silence, marginalisation of individual victims, and the pronounced desire to “forget” about certain aspects of wartime victimisation. Given that the contemporary prospects of retributive justice and inter-ethnic reconciliation in Bosnia-Herzegovina remain a distant prospect, the question of what can be done to reassert the ethical value of the victims of mass rape and violence continues to be of great importance. Minow’s response to this question is that even if the rigor of prosecution and punishment are not pursued, some other form of public acknowledgement, overcoming communal denial, is the very least that can be done to restore dignity to victims‟ (1998: 17).  Pertaining to this, women’s testimonies of wartime violation have resulted in the conception of critical and reflective cultural texts such as the two analysed in this paper. As if I Am Not There (Drakilić, 1999) and Esma’s Secret (Žbanić, 2006) attempt to confront Bosnian society about its neglect of the women who suffered wartime rape. The texts further broach the subject of the social significance of the children who were born as a result of these rapes. The underlying focus of these texts is an attempt to propose and work towards a vision of post-conflict Bosnian society based on a future of reconciliation and the refusal to differentiate along ethnic lines.

Keywords: post-conflict, narrative, reconciliation

Topics: Gender-Based Violence, Justice, War Crimes, Post-Conflict, Sexual Violence, Rape Regions: Europe, Balkans, Eastern Europe Countries: Bosnia & Herzegovina

Year: 2011

Gender and Sexual Crimes Before Ad Hoc International Criminal Tribunals


Szpak, Agnieszka. 2011. “Gender and Sexual Crimes Before Ad Hoc International Criminal Tribunals." International Journal of Public Law and Policy 1 (3): 284-298.

Author: Agnieszka Szpak


Rape has been regarded as a weapon of war, a tool used to achieve military objectives such as ethnic cleansing, genocide, spreading political terror, breaking the resistance of a community, intimidation or extraction of information. The 1949 Geneva Conventions do not refer to acts of sexual violence as a 'grave breach'. The 1990s saw the establishment of the two flagship international criminal institutions – the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) as well as codification of rape and other sexual violence as among the gravest international crimes in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. The purpose of this paper is on the one hand to point to the achievements of the ad hoc international criminal tribunals in the recognition of gender crimes as war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide and on the other, to indicate that there have been some mischaracterisations and misunderstandings in their jurisprudence, particularly as to the issue of consent of the victim of rape as definitional element of that crime.

Keywords: genocide, war rape, ICC, war crimes

Topics: Armed Conflict, Ethnic/Communal Wars, Ethnicity, Gender-Based Violence, International Law, International Criminal Law, Justice, Crimes against Humanity, International Tribunals & Special Courts, War Crimes, Sexual Violence, Rape, SV against women Regions: Africa, Central Africa, Europe, Balkans, Eastern Europe Countries: Bosnia & Herzegovina, Rwanda

Year: 2011

Mobilizing the Will to Prosecute: Crimes of Rape at the Yugoslav and Rwandan Tribunals


Haddad, Heidi Nichols. 2011. "Mobilizing the Will to Prosecute: Crimes of Rape at the Yugoslav and Rwandan Tribunals." Human Rights Review 12 (1): 109-132.

Author: Heidi Nichols Haddad


Widespread and systematic rape pervaded both the genocides in Bosnia–Herzegovina in 1992 and in Rwanda in 1994. In response to these conflicts, the Yugoslav Tribunal (ICTY) and the Rwandan Tribunal (ICTR) were created and charged with meting justice for crimes committed, including rape. Nevertheless, the two tribunals differ in their relative success in administering justice for crimes of rape. Addressing rape has been a consistent element of the ICTY prosecution strategy, which resulted in gender-sensitive investigative procedures, higher frequencies of rape indictments, and more successful prosecutions. In contrast, rape has not been a central focus of the ICTR prosecution strategy, which resulted in a sporadic approach to gender-sensitive investigative procedures, inconsistent rape indictments, and few successful prosecutions. What accounts for this disparity in rape prosecutions between the Rwandan and Yugoslav tribunals? Building off the existing literature that discusses factors such as legal instruments and resource capacity of the tribunal, this article argues that transnational advocacy helped generate the necessary political will to adopt and implement legal norms regarding crimes of sexual violence at the ICTY and the ICTR. Following the importance of transnational advocacy as agents of norm change, this paper also explores the antecedent conditions of advocacy mobilization that conditioned different levels of mobilization vis-à-vis the ICTY and the ICTR, including media attention and framing, connections and interest match with local groups, and geopolitical context.

Keywords: sexual violence, international law



"Following the importance of transnational advocacy in generating political will for rape prosecutions, this article articulates why transnational advocacy groups did not mobilize around the issue of conflict rape evenly, as seen by different levels of mobilization against the ICTY and the ICTR. Three antecedent conditions affected the mobilization of transnational advocacy campaigns for rape prosecution: prior connections and matched interests with local women’s and human rights groups, geopolitical factors, and media attention and symbolic framing. Together, these three antecedent variables conditioned the mobilization of transnational advocacy, and therefore affected the pressure and leverage transnational advocacy coalitions exerted upon the ICTY and the ICTR to address conflict rape." (111)

"In terms of adoption of gender-sensitive policies at the ICTY, the initial chief prosecutor, Richard Goldstone, appointed Patricia Viseur Sellers as “Legal Advisor for Gender-related Crimes” to the Office of the Prosecution to formulate a prosecution approach to rape and other sex crimes at both the ICTY and the ICTR (Copelon 2000; Engle 2005). While technically this position was to inform both the prosecution strategies of the ICTY and the ICTR, the position was located at The Hague, the location of the ICTY, and Sellers’s influence on the ICTR was limited." (114)

"At the ICTR, gender-sensitive policies have been intermittent in adoption and implementation. Not until 1996, 2 years after the ICTR’s establishment and at the end of the tenure of the first chief prosecutor Richard Goldstone, was a sexual assault unit of the investigative team of the Office of the Prosecutor created. The sexual assault unit consisted of three officers, one psychologist, one nurse, two lawyers, two policewomen, and one policeman and was charged with preparing victims for testimony, working with NGOs, and providing safe travel for witnesses (UN Commission on Human Rights 1998). In 2000, the third chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, dismantled the sexual assault unit. However, at the end of her term in 2003, when she was seeking a second term and was under pressure from women’s groups, the sexual assault unit was reinstated. Apart from the sexual assault unit, investigators at the ICTR received no training in interviewing rape victims, most of the investigators were male, and many investigators espoused the belief that rape is not worthy of investigation (Nowrojee 2005)." (115-116)

"As with the ICTY, the ICTR Rules of Prosecution and Evidence provides for creation of a Victims and Witness Protection Unit; however, a witness protection program was not created until 1997–1998, almost 4 years after the tribunal’s inception (MADRE 1997; UN Commission on Human Rights 1998). Investigators at the ICTR also misrepresented privacy protection to women in order to facilitate getting testimony at trial by not telling the victim that her name would be given to the defense team. Besides the betrayal of institutional trust that this creates, women are often at risk for reprisals for testifying or encounter hostility by her family or community, who may not know that she was raped. One rape victim, who testified on the basis of confidentiality, had her testimony leaked, and she was subsequently left by her fiancée after returning from Arusha because of the stigma of her rape (Coalition for Women's Human Rights in Conflict Situations 2002; Nowrojee 2005). In the Butare case, sensitivity to sexual crimes was also lacking. During one defendant’s trial, a victim of rape was asked 1,194 questions by the defense, with many of the questions repeating detailed aspects of the rape. In addition, rape victims were asked offensive questions such as if the victim had bathed—implying that she could not have been raped if she smelled (Nowrojee 2005)." (116)

"In terms of rape convictions, a total of five rape convictions as a crime against humanity, as a form of genocide (Akayesu), and as a violation of the Geneva Conventions have survived appeal. When viewed in comparative terms, 25% of completed rape cases resulted in successful convictions at the ICTR and 92% of completed rape cases resulted in successful convictions at the ICTY (see Table 1). While this contrast is markedly different, the disparity of rape convictions is even more exaggerated when rape conviction statistics are discussed relative to the number of rapes that occurred in the conflicts. There were more than 20 times as many rapes during the genocide in Rwanda than occurred in Bosnia: approximately 20,000 women were raped in the genocide in Bosnia and approximately 250,000 women were raped in the Rwandan genocide." (117)

"In the first few years of operation, the ICTY received almost double the funding of the ICTR—the ICTY spent about $75 million and the ICTR spent about $42 million (Neuffer 1996). In addition to receiving fewer monetary resources, the ICTR was also plagued with gross administration failures and mismanagement. An audit report of the United Nations Office of Internal Oversight Services detailed large shortcomings in all areas of the Tribunal, especially with the Registry and Office of the Prosecutor. These shortcomings included incomplete and unreliable financial records, payroll problems, underqualified staff and staff vacancies, inadequate security and witness protection, and lack of leadership (UN Office of Internal Oversight Services 1997)." (119)

"Transnational advocacy networks pressuring for rape prosecution did not mobilize around the ICTR to the extent that they mobilized around the ICTY. Transnational advocacy networks did not actively pressure the ICTR until 2 years after the establishment of the tribunal. This is not to say that transnational advocacy was absent, but it was slow to mobilize and never generated the broad-base mobilization that surrounded the issue of rape in Bosnia. Because of this, the campaign was never able to generate the sustained advocacy to force the ICTR to produce the political will to shift the default strategy from marginalization and devaluation of sexual violence prosecution. Initially, human rights groups assumed that the gains made within the ICTY about sexual violence would travel to the ICTR, especially since the two tribunals shared the same prosecutor." (123)

"In the case of Bosnia, the media actively engaged in informational politics by gathering and disseminating information and constructing a narrative about the widespread rapes and rape camps. The initial media reports on rape in Bosnia (in the summer of 1992) were largely ignored, but the continuous reports eventually sparked further governmental investigations, public debate, and mobilization by women’s and human rights groups on the issue (Stanley 1999). In the 18-month period between April 1992 (when the mass rapes began) and September 1993 (6 months after the creation of the ICTY), 139 media stories ran in major world publications with “rape” in Bosnia in the headline of the story.14 The media reports ran continuously from July 1992 through the entire 18-month period covered in the analysis and ranged in types of stories from editorials about intervention to stop the rapes, an op-ed piece by Geraldine Ferraro, harrowing testimonials by survivors of rape camps, discussions about rape as a weapon of war, Vatican pronouncements about the use of birth control for nuns living in the former Yugoslavia, and international adoption policies for the children born of rape." (125)

"In contrast to the profusion of media attention to the rapes in Bosnia, only eight media stories with headlines of “rape” about the Rwandan genocide appeared in major world publications in the 18-month period between April 1994 (the beginning of the conflict) and September 1995 (11 months after the creation of the ICTR). All of these eight media stories discussed the widespread rapes during the genocide through the subject of the thousands of children born of rape. In addition, all stories were reported between February and August of 1995, which is about 9 months after the genocidal period and coincides with the birth of the children born of the rapes." (126)

"One frame that the rapes in Bosnia were embedded within is the larger analogy of the genocide in Bosnia to the Holocaust and the Nazi concentration camps. Out of the 139 media articles that discuss the rapes in Bosnia, 20 of them directly reference the Nazis, the Holocaust, or death camps. This analogy not only pertains to the mass killings in Bosnia but also extends to the rape camps and their similarity to the Nazi 'joy division' of female concentration-camp inmates where mass rapes occurred (Branson 1993)." (126)

"While the analogy between the Holocaust and the genocide in Bosnia may be apt in many ways, using this analogy, or framing the conflict as akin to the Holocaust, attaches meaning to the conflict in Bosnia beyond merely reporting information. When embedded within this Holocaust narrative, the Bosnian conflict evokes the guilt and historical memory of the horrific consequences of delayed world action and the promises of 'never again' occurring again in Europe. In essence, using this analogy frames the killings and mass rapes in Bosnia as an issue that demands and requires world attention and action." (126)

"Rather, the conflict in Rwanda was not in the sphere of interest of the mainstream media. During the height of the genocide, information was gathered and disseminated about the killings and rapes by advocacy groups such as Human Rights Watch, UN peacekeepers, and newspaper journalists (Power 2003). The lack of prioritization of the conflict in Rwanda by the media reflected the larger apathy by the world community and the U.S. government to prioritize Rwanda as part of the national interest. In the spring of 1994, an officer of the U.S. Defense Department’s African Affairs Bureau was told by his boss, 'Look, if something happens in Rwanda-Burundi, we don’t care. Take it off the list. U.S. national interest is not involved and we can’t put all these silly humanitarian issues on lists... Just make it go away' (Power 2003, 342). In addition to viewing Rwanda as outside of the national interest, implicit racism fueled by deep prejudices and misconceptions about long-standing bloody ethnic wars in Africa, also altered people’s values and expectations about the comparative worth of human life and suffering." (126)

“In the former Yugoslavia, relationships between local movements and transnational organizations were strong and had long established ties with women’s and feminist movements in Europe (Benderly 1997). In 1991, local and transnational feminist and peace organizations mobilized against the Yugoslavian conflict and the ethnic cleansing by staging marches, antiwar protests, as well as providing social services to affected women through shelters and hotlines (Benderly 1997). In addition, local women’s groups quickly embraced the international criminal tribunal; during the conflict, these groups actively documented abuses and gathered evidence to be used at the ICTY (Benderly 1997). Connections between Yugoslav feminists, NGO workers, and prominent U.S. feminists such as feminist attorney Catherine MacKinnon also helped establish notable relationships within the transnational advocacy network that sparked increased attention to a broad base of U.S. feminists." (127)

"In Rwanda, local women’s organizations did not have the same depth of connections with transnational organizations as the Yugoslav groups and did not have issue alignment over the prioritization of sexual violence justice through the mechanism of the international criminal tribunal. Rape was not an issue that Rwandan women’s groups initially mobilized around. After the genocide, AVEGA, the largest women’s organization in Rwanda, mobilized around the issue of widowhood and chose not to focus on sexual violence (Rombouts 2006). In 1996, when women’s and human rights advocacy organizations began to document the sexual violence that occurred during the genocide, women’s groups were not interested in the issue of rape, but in social and economic issues such as healthcare and reparations." (127)

Topics: Gender, Women, Gender-Based Violence, Media, International Law, International Criminal Law, Justice, International Tribunals & Special Courts, Peace Processes, Security, Sexual Violence, Rape, SV against women Regions: Africa, Central Africa, East Africa, Europe, Balkans, Eastern Europe Countries: Bosnia & Herzegovina, Rwanda

Year: 2011

Gender and Survival: Serbia in the 1990s


Blagojevic, Marina. 1999. “Gender and Survival: Serbia in the 1990s.” In Construction and Reconstruction : Women, Family and Politics in Central Europe 1945-1998, edited by Andrea Pető and Béla Rásky, 187-214. Budapest: OSI.

Author: Marina Blagojevic

Topics: Gender, Post-Conflict, Post-Conflict Reconstruction Regions: Europe, Balkans, Eastern Europe Countries: Serbia

Year: 1999

The Role of Gender in Civil-Military Cooperation: A Unique Opportunity for Change


Cook, Charlene, and Donna Winslow. 2007. "The Role of Gender in Civil-Military Cooperation: A Unique Opportunity for Change." Peace and Conflict Studies 14 (1): 58-72.

Authors: Charlene Cook, Donna Winslow


Post-conflict reconstruction provides a unique opportunity to redress the experience of women during war and capitalize on the shifting gender roles prompted by conflict to advance a more equitable female citizenship. However, most post-conflict initiatives have not incorporated a gender-based action plan, impeded by a disparate prioritization of gender by civil and military actors. In order to ensure equitable post conflict outcomes, gender representation and mainstreaming must be comparably prioritized by civil and military engagement in peace building. This paper explores Bosnia as a case study to highlight the necessary role of civil-military cooperation in gender-based peace building. (Cook and Winslow 2007)

Keywords: post-conflict reconstruction, civil-military cooperation, military, civilian, gender mainstreaming, peace building, Afro-Colombian

Topics: Armed Conflict, Citizenship, Civil Society, Gender, Women, Gender Roles, Gender Mainstreaming, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Peacebuilding, Post-Conflict, Post-Conflict Reconstruction Regions: Europe, Balkans, Eastern Europe Countries: Bosnia & Herzegovina

Year: 2007

Post-Conflict Bosnia and Herzegovina: Integrating Women's Special Situation and Gender Perspectives in Skills Training and Employment Promotion Programmes


Walsh, Martha. 1997. Post-Conflict Bosnia and Herzegovina: Integrating Women's Special Situation and Gender Perspectives in Skills Training and Employment Promotion Programmes. Geneva: International Labor Office.

Author: Martha Walsh


This report is an input to the ILO Action Programme on Skills and Entrepreneurship Training for Countries Emerging from Armed Conflict. The programme has undertaken several country-level research activities of which the author's report is one example. The report examines the gendered consequences of war. They include gender role changes emanating from exigencies of the conflict-affected context; weakened community structures, cohesion and trust and their impact on women's coping strategies and vulnerability after war; increase in numbers and vulnerability of female-headed households; and greater differences between men and women in their opportunities in the post war labour market. The limited focus men receive in programmes set up to tackle war-related physiological traumas could add to the high level of male violence against women in postwar households. The report also shows how prewar differences amongst women influence the impact of war on them, as well as how other causes of vulnerability, such as ethnicity, disability and age, need to be tackled in post war technical assistance projects. The study finds that ongoing postwar projects do not contribute substantially to empowering women, nor do they target women's strategic needs. Whilst many women's organisations exist in the country, the extent of their contribution is limited since they do not engage in the public arena. The report makes a number of proposals regarding policy and programme to guide future action.



“The way in which men and women experience and deal with the consequences of conflict depends on gender roles and relations prior to the conflict and how they were renegotiated during wartime.” (2)

“ Bosnia, where class, ethnicity, and residential status are key elements in determining a woman’s position and have proved to be a source of conflict between women and women’s organizations.” (2)

“There has always been a profound bias against rural people, which has been worsened by heavy refugee flows from rural to urban...displaced women in urban areas must compete with other groups of women, such as families of dead soldiers, for housing and other resources.” (3)

“Conflict creates a confusing and contradictory dynamic in which gender identities are reified and polarized while at the same time women’s roles are expanded into male-dominated arenas.” (4)

“The rape of women during wartime is an intentional and strategic act of brutality. It is designed to degrade women as the moral guardians of their traditions and to demoralize the community in which they live.” (9)

Topics: Armed Conflict, Ethnic/Communal Wars, Combatants, DDR, Displacement & Migration, Ethnicity, Gender, Women, Gender Roles, Gender-Based Violence, Gendered Power Relations, Health, PTSD, Trauma, Households, Livelihoods, NGOs, Post-Conflict, Post-Conflict Reconstruction, Security, Sexual Violence, SV against women Regions: Europe, Balkans, Eastern Europe Countries: Bosnia & Herzegovina

Year: 1997

Mind the Gap: Where Feminist Theory Failed to Meet Development Practice - A Missed Opportunity in Bosnia and Herzegovina


Walsh, Martha. 1998. "Mind the Gap: Where Feminist Theory Failed to Meet Development Practice - A Missed Opportunity in Bosnia and Herzegovina." European Journal of Women's Studies 5 (3): 329-43.

Author: Martha Walsh

Topics: Development, Feminisms, Gender, Women, Gender Analysis, Post-Conflict Reconstruction Regions: Europe, Balkans Countries: Bosnia & Herzegovina

Year: 1998

Gender, Peace and Conflict


Skjelsbæk, Inger, and Dan Smith. 2001. Gender, Peace and Conflict. London: SAGE Publications Ltd.

Authors: Inger Skjelsbæk, Dan Smith


Gender is increasingly recognized as central to the study and analysis of the traditionally male domains of war and international relations. This book explores the key role of gender in peace research, conflict resolution and international politics. Rather than simply ‘add gender and stir’, the aim is to transcend different disciplinary boundaries and conceptual approaches to provide a more integrated basis for research and study. To this end Gender, Peace and Conflict uniquely combines theoretical chapters alongside empirical case studies to demonstrate the importance of a gender perspective to both theory and practice in conflict resolution and peace research. The theoretical chapters explore the gender relationship and engage with the many stereotypical elisions and dichotomies that dominate and distort the issue, such as the polarized pairs of femininity and peace versus masculinity and war. The case study chapters (drawing on examples from South America, South Asia and Europe, including former Yugoslavia) move beyond theoretical critique to focus on issues such as sexual violence in war, the role of women in military groups and peacekeeping operations, and the impact of a ‘critical mass’ of women in political decision-making. Gender, Peace and Conflict provides an invaluable survey and new insights in a central area of contemporary research. It will be essential reading for academics, students and practitioners across peace studies, conflict resolution and international politics. (SAGE Publications)

Keywords: gender, conflict resolution, peace, conflict

Topics: Armed Conflict, Combatants, Female Combatants, Gender, Women, Gender Mainstreaming, Peace Processes, Post-Conflict, Post-Conflict Reconstruction, Sexual Violence, SV against women Regions: Americas, South America, Asia, South Asia, Europe, Balkans Countries: Yugoslavia (former)

Year: 2001

Bosnian Women and Social Reconstruction: Reweaving the Social Fabric


Nguyen-Gillham, Viet Q. 1999. "Bosnian Women and Social Reconstruction: Reweaving the Social Fabric." PhD diss., Boston University.

Author: Viet Q. Nguyen-Gillham


The dissertation explores the process of social reconstruction by women in a Bosnian community. It looks at how Bosnian women ''pick up the pieces'' of their lives in the aftermath of a three and a half year war. The focus is on women''s practices and survival strategies, and their roles as reconstructing agents in postwar development. In previous research, the process of social reconstruction is often framed as reweaving the ''social fabric of a society in the aftermath of war.'' The dissertation reexamines the metaphor to (re)cover what constitutes the reweaving and the substantive threads of the ''social fabric.'' In the literature on postwar reconstruction, the dominant emphasis on political and physical rehabilitation has led to a marginalization of social reconstruction; it has received little attention within social theory and humanitarian research. The question of how and in what ways war survivors recreate a new universe is often left unanswered by researchers and policymakers. In the dissertation, I propose a sociological reframing of social reconstruction that puts women at the center of analysis. In contrast to macro-focused rehabilitation, social reconstruction is reinterpreted as a socially and culturally constructed process grounded in the local and everyday practices of war-affected women. The study shows that undergirding the concept of social reconstruction is the organizing principle of practice: to recreate a new life is to be engaged in a matrix of concrete actions and daily accomplishments. Women''s experiences of social reconstruction are not only shaped by their lived realities and material conditions, they are situated firmly within an economy of social life. A recasting of social reconstruction interweaves the practices of women within a web of social relations that traverses both private and public spaces. To examine the issues, I conducted ethnographic research in Bosnia and analyzed the interview and questionnaire data using a grounded theory method. In the present political climate, the issue of social reconstruction can no longer be ignored by humanitarian policymakers. The dissertation explores both the treatment of war survivors by the international community and the policies of the humanitarian industry in its care of war-affected women.

Topics: Displacement & Migration, Gender, Women, Post-Conflict, Post-Conflict Reconstruction Regions: Europe, Balkans Countries: Bosnia & Herzegovina

Year: 1999


© 2020 CONSORTIUM ON GENDER, SECURITY & HUMAN RIGHTSLEGAL STATEMENT All photographs used on this site, and any materials posted on it, are the property of their respective owners, and are used by permission. Photographs: The images used on the site may not be downloaded, used, or reproduced in any way without the permission of the owner of the image. Materials: Visitors to the site are welcome to peruse the materials posted for their own research or for educational purposes. These materials, whether the property of the Consortium or of another, may only be reproduced with the permission of the owner of the material. This website contains copyrighted materials. The Consortium believes that any use of copyrighted material on this site is both permissive and in accordance with the Fair Use doctrine of 17 U.S.C. § 107. If, however, you believe that your intellectual property rights have been violated, please contact the Consortium at

Subscribe to RSS - Balkans