Feature 18 Dec 14

A War Crime Shrouded in Silence

The murder and rape of pregnant women by fighters during the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina remains one of the least-researched aspects of wartime brutality.

Albina Sorguc
BIRN
Sarajevo

Photo: Wikicommons/X. Compagnion.

After his release from captivity in August 1992, Musan Sarancic tried to find out what happened to his pregnant wife Sabira, who he last saw alive when they were both imprisoned in detention camps in the southern town of Nevesinje.

Saranic remembers the last time they met on June 17, 1992, before he was moved to another detention camp.

“I took off my wedding ring and said to my wife that it might be safer with her. I had a small Koran in my pocket and I gave it to her, too. We looked at each other through tearful eyes and I told her: ‘I hope that they will not touch the women,’” he recalled with a trembling voice.

“I had the feeling that she knew that we would never see each other again,” he said.

Saranic later learned from his sister, who was also detained at the same detention camp, that Serb soldiers repeatedly took his wife out after dark and that she was in tears when she came back.

“They came late at night, searching for her... My mother tried to stop them her taking away and said: ‘If you take her, take me, too.’ They beat my mother and took her away with Sabira. They did not bring them back. In the morning, when my sister asked where they were, the guards told her that it was too late to ask for them,” he said.

The remains of his wife, who was 20 years old and in her fifth month of pregnancy, were finally found in 2002.

There is no official data about the number of pregnant women killed during the 1992-95 conflict, but the victims’ association Women - Victims of War believes that the numbers could be as high as several hundred.

The bones of an exhumed foetus at the pathologist's office in Sarajevo. Photo: Albina Sorguc.

Rights groups have often suggested that rape was used as a weapon of war against civilians in the Bosnian conflict. Up to 50,000 women are estimated to have been raped during the war, but only around 30 direct perpetrators have been convicted by domestic courts and the international tribunal in The Hague.

The Institute for Missing Persons of Bosnia and Herzegovina said that it had found the remains of four more pregnant women who were killed during the war, as well as those of Sabira Sarancic.

“One woman was 24 years old. She was exhumed from a mass grave in Drvar. She was from Kljuc, and she was taken to Drvar to give birth and was killed there. Two pregnant women, one 32 years old and the second 30 years old, were found in the Bratunac area,” said spokesperson Lejla Cengic.

Cengic said that the Institute was also searching for the remains of another woman who was in the eighth or ninth month of pregnancy when she disappeared in the Srebrenica area.

“It is possible that the number of murdered pregnant women is larger, because the Institute can only get information about the early months of pregnancy from [victims’] families,” said Cengic.

She also said that it was impossible to find the skeleton of a foetus in early pregnancy.

Mujo Begic, the head of the Bosnian Krajina regional department of the Institute for Missing Persons, said that he was aware of several other cases in which women who were in the later stages of pregnancy were murdered.

“One woman who was in the sixth month of pregnancy was killed in the village of Arapusa [near Bosanska Krupa] in 1992. They killed her by shooting her in the stomach,” Begic said.

As well as those who were killed, around 100 more pregnant women were raped, beaten and tortured, estimates Women - Victims of War, citing statements that the association has taken from survivors.

It said that because of the rapes, some women suffered serious bleeding which resulted in miscarriages and the inability to have another child.

One woman told BIRN that she was raped by two fighters in 1992 and subsequently gave birth prematurely.

“I begged and cried. I said that I was pregnant, and he replied that it was a good reason, and that if he wanted, he could take out my child out of me,” said the woman, who asked to remain anonymous.

“I give birth prematurely in my city, which was under occupation then. The child was born with hepatitis; it weighed just 2.2 kilogrammes,” she said.

Neuropsychiatrist Abdulah Kucukalic said that nationalism and ethnic hatred had driven men to murder, assault and rape pregnant women during the conflict and to believe that they could get away with it.

“These people feel no guilt, no remorse or compassion for the victim,” Kucukalic told BIRN.

“They do what they want, but they do not have the feeling that they were wrong. In addition, there is hatred and a lack of fear of the law, because there is lawlessness during a war,” he added.

Another woman who also asked to remain anonymous said that she lost her child after fighters beat her with batons. While she was still bleeding after losing the baby, a man raped her. Because of the physical trauma that she suffered, she cannot have another child.

“The truth is, the rape killed my youth. The truth is, I lost my marriage,” she told BIRN.

“I am not a mother, and the truth is today, I cannot be a mother.”

Talk about it!

blog comments powered by Disqus

Latest Headlines

News 13 Dec 17

Kosovo Urged to Increase Aid to Wartime Rape Victims

News 20 Nov 17

War Rape Victim Sues Croatian Ministry

News 12 Sep 17

Bosnia Urged to Accelerate Wartime Rape Prosecutions

Feature 30 Jun 17

Bosnian Clerics Unite to Condemn Wartime Sexual Violence

Interview 22 Jun 17

Wartime Sexual Crimes: A Challenge for Balkan Prosecutors

Interview 11 Apr 17

War Justice Strategy for Kosovo Undermined by Divisions

NEWS 13 Mar 17

Bosnia Accused of Failing Wartime Rape Victims

Feature 20 Oct 16

Bosnian War Rape Victims Rue Lost Motherhood

News 09 Sep 16

Bosnian War Rape Victims Struggle for Compensation