Beliefnet
THE HAGUE, Netherlands, Feb. 22 (AP) - A U.N. war crimes tribunal Thursday convicted three Bosnian Serbs standing trial on charges of rape and torture, the first case of wartime sexual enslavement to come before an international court.

The ruling by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia contained the first conviction in history for sexual enslavement as a crime against humanity.

It marked a milestone for the recognition of women's special vulnerability during war and the need for legal sanctions to prevent them from being treated as spoils of battle.

Although there have been several rape convictions at both the Yugoslav tribunal and another U.N. court on the Rwandan genocide, the this case was the first international war crimes trial to focus on sexual crimes.

And despite the well-documented rape of Asian ``comfort women'' by Japanese soldiers during World War II, no one had been convicted before for wartime sexual enslavement, scholars say.

The judgment will help set legal precedent by describing criteria of sexual enslavement: women were detained under conditions in which they ``had to do everything they were ordered to do, including the cooking and household chores;'' they were reserved for specific men who repeatedly raped them and were given to other soldiers for sexual favors; and they ``were effectively denied any control about their lives.''

The tribunal convicted Dragoljub Kunarac and Radomir Kovac of sexually assaulting and torturing Muslim women at rape camps during the Bosnian war. Kunaric was sentenced to 28 years imprisonment, and Kovac got 20 years.

The court said Kunarac was involved in a ``nightmarish scheme of sexual exploitation'' that was ``especially repugnant.''

``You abused and ravaged Muslim women because of their ethnicity, and from among their number you picked whomsoever you fancied,'' said the presiding judge, reading the first verdict.

The third defendant, Zoran Vukovic, was convicted of raping and torturing a 15-year-old girl - who was about the same age as his own daughter - but acquitted him of most other charges for lack of evidence. He was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment.

Presiding judge Florence Mumba went through the testimony of woman after woman who had told horrendous tales of rape and torture in the Bosnian town of Foca, a city southeast of Sarajevo after it was overrun in April 1992, when Muslims were herded into separate prison camps for men and women.

The women, both in their testimony and in the verdict, were identified by numbers rather than names to avoid further shame.

The defendants stood in silence wearing headphones as the judgment was read in somber tones.

Dirk Ryneveld, the lead prosecutor in the case, welcomed the verdicts and commended ``the bravery of the victims who came forward to tell their stories.'' Peggy Kuo, another prosecutor, said ``the length of the sentences shows that court takes these kinds of crimes seriously.''

Mumba said the defendants carried out their rape in full knowledge of the systematic attack against the Muslim population ordered by the Bosnian Serb leadership.

They were not ``political or military masterminds behind the conflicts and atrocities,'' she said. ``However, they thrived in the dark atmosphere of the dehumanization of those believed to be enemies.''

The verdict in the Foca case follows months of testimony from dozens of witnesses, including 16 former rape victims who came to The Hague to confront their alleged former tormentors. The trial began March 20.

The women told how Bosnian Serb paramilitary soldiers entered detention centers and selected women and girls as young as 12 for nightly gang-rapes and sexual torture.

They were charged with about 50 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including rape, torture, enslavement and outrages upon personal dignity. The crimes carried maximum life sentences.

The tribunal was established by the U.N. Security Council in 1993 to go after the alleged architects of the Bosnian war's bloody ``ethnic cleansing'' campaigns, including the former Bosnian Serb president, Radovan Karadzic, and his military chief, Ratko Mladic, who remain at large.

However, prosecutors indicted the three irregular soldiers to spotlight the widespread use of rape as a weapon throughout the 1992-1995 war.

Human rights groups have estimated that tens of thousands of people, mainly Muslim woman and girls, were raped in the war. The sexual assaults were designed to intimidate Muslim families into flight and force women to bear Serb babies.

In their testimony, some witnesses sobbed and others shrieked with rage as they recalled being assaulted by up to 10 soldiers at a time in classrooms of the high school where they were detained, or in soldiers' private apartments - so-called ``rape camps.''

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