Sexual Violence as a Weapon of Ethnic Cleansing and Genocide in the Yugoslav Wars


In this Master’s thesis, I study sexual violence that was committed during the Yugoslav Wars in the 1990s. The objective of this writing is to research how the incidence of wartime rape in the Yugoslav Wars, and in particular, the founding of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (the ICTY) by the United Nations to prosecute and try individuals responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law since 1991, and the precedents of the ad hoc tribunal, shaped both the theory and praxis of international law. Of all grave breaches of human rights and war crimes, I have chosen to focus on examining the changes that the prosecuting of wartime rape in the ICTY brought about in relation to how genocide and ethnic cleansing are now understood. For this purpose, I first report how rape was used as a weapon of warfare in the Yugoslav Wars; its incidence; and, to shed some light on the motives of these atrocities, I briefly review the history of the relations of the West Balkans nations and the escalation of political tensions and racial propaganda that broke out into armed conflicts. To describe the shift in international law that the ICTY case law produced, I outline the status quo prior to the founding of the tribunal in 1993. The Bosnian War in 1992–1995 and the Kosovo War in 1998-1999 are at the center of this study, as most wartime sexual violence was reported in these conflicts, and they are therefore the scenes of the ICTY cases involving charges of sexual violence. I explore how declaring politically and militarily motivated wartime sexual violence to be ethnic cleansing and genocide – essentially, giving the crimes the names of grave breaches of human rights – reflect the reality of war, revealing how wartime rape serves macro ambitions instead of individual perpetrators’ perversions, as well as de facto victimhood in war besides fallen combatants. I will demonstrate how the ICTY prosecutions signified army and political leaders’ individual accountability for grave breaches of human rights for the first time since the Nuremberg trials in 1945-1946, and how witness statements prove that wartime sexual violence was indeed committed under the protection or even direct command of superiors. I touch briefly the critique that the shift in discourse from individual rapes during conflicts to sexual violence as a weapon of war has received in academic writing. I also assess the international political and military response to the Kosovo War in the light of the failure to prevent the large-scale atrocities in the Bosnian War. Lastly, I review the implications and shortcomings of the ICTY’s work in the eyes of different former Yugoslav ethnic groups. The approach of this thesis has been influenced by victimology and law and gender studies, and carries feminist undertones

Similar works

Full text


Helsingin yliopiston digitaalinen arkisto

Provided a free PDF

This paper was published in Helsingin yliopiston digitaalinen arkisto.

Having an issue?

Is data on this page outdated, violates copyrights or anything else? Report the problem now and we will take corresponding actions after reviewing your request.