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Bosnian Rapes Declared War Crimes

The United Nations Tribunal at The Hague this summer indicted Bosnian Serb military and police officials in connection with the rapes of Muslim women in the Bosnian war. This legal action marks the success of a campaign waged by the Commission for Women’s Equality of the American Jewish Congress and some 40 other organizations, aimed at prosecuting rapes and forced impregnation of Muslim women and girls in Bosnia as crimes of war. It is the first time in history a court has recognized rape in wartime as something other than an individual’s aberrant behavior.

CWE gathered a coalition of human rights, religious, ethnic, relief and women’s organizations in 1993 to urge documentation and prosecution of cases of rape and forced impregnation in the former Yugoslavia as war crimes and crimes against humanity. The campaign also was intended to provide medical, psychological and social services for the victimized Muslim women.

The CWE commended Richard Goldstone, the tribunal’s chief prosecutor, for recognizing “that these gender-related crimes had to be given a primary place in international law as crimes against humanity and prosecuted accordingly.” Mr. Goldstone, however, is expected to be succeeded in October by Louise Arbour, a Canadian judge who has been criticized for her reluctance to take a hard-line stance on prosecuting Nazi war criminals and rapists in a Canadian prison. The world will be watching to see how Ms. Arbour handles her new global responsibility.