The Serb Femicide – by Aart Brouwer, De Groene Amsterdammer 1997

De Groene Amsterdammer 

Sept 3 1997

The Serb Femicide


by Aart Brouwer




On March 16th of this year Grozdana Cecez (47) from Bosnia took the witness stand at the Yugoslavia Tribunal in The Hague.  In May 1992, shortly after the outbreak of the Bosnian war, she was taken to the Celebici prison camp.  In a whispering voice she testified about her treatment by second-in-command Hazim Delic and other guards.


For three months she and the other female prisoners had been beaten, starved and raped, once even by three different men in a single night.


Cecez’ account is definitely not the only testimony of rape during the war in Bosnia.  The stories, shocking as they are, are also disgustingly similar.  Apparently the male species has only a limited but alas effective repertoire.  Whether regular army troops, militias or gangs, the pattern the perpetrators followed is always the same:  they overran a village or town, separated the men from the women and abused the latter in hotels, homes and public buildings which had been converted to make-shift prison camps.


According to journalists and researchers this was common practice among the Bosnian Serbs.  By the end of 1992 estimates of 20,000 to 100,000 Muslim women surfaced.  In combination with the reports about ‘rapecamps’ these figures confirmed a gruesome suspicion:  the Serb leadership promoted mass rape to break the moral resistance of the Muslims.


According to feminist groups the female body was the actual battle-field in this war.  Their call for punishment was heard:  for the first time since the Tokyo Tribunal of 1946 rape in war time is being prosecuted as a separate crime.  In The Hague Cecez was the first victim to point her finger at her rapist.


But her case is remarkable for yet another reason:  Cecez is a Serb, Delic is a Muslim.  Celibici fell under the responsibility Alija Izetbegovic, who, it is said, visited the camp on several occasions.  Apparently the Bosnian side committed rapes, too, and not just sporadically, as becomes clear from reports by aid workers, humanitarian organisations and international observers.  Where then did the ‘idée recue’ come from that only the Serbs raped prisoners systematically and on a massive scale?


‘The truth about a war becomes only known when it is over,’ says Mira Behem, a media teacher, in ‘Kriegstrommeln:  Medien, Krieg und Politik’ (1996).  In two resounding chapters she proves that the history of the Bosnian war has by far not been written yet.  The role of secret services, the war-propaganda and the American PR-bureaus which worked for the Croatian and Bosnian governments seriously harmed truthfulness.

When American reporter Peter Brock, by the end of 1993, accused his collegues in Sarajevo and Zagreb of anti-Serb ‘pack journalism’ he was practically lynched, but later he has often been proved right.

We now know that the number of 200,000 Muslims killed in the Bosnian war, as stated by the government in Sarajevo, is a gross exaggeration. The Red Cross, the UN and Sipri in Stockholm estimate the total number of victims among all warring parties at between 25,000 and 60,000.

Still, the 200,000 figure was used for years, without objection and with no sources given.  From my own research (which went as far is the decent poverty of this paper allows) I can draw no other conclusion than that the Serb ‘femicide’ is nothing more than propaganda, readily adopted by reporters, politicians and feminist ‘researchers’.

The source can be found in Croatia, where, in 1992, aid workers startedto file testimony from Croatian and Bosnian refugee women.  The coordination was in the hands of the Croatian Information Center (CIC) in Zagreb, which had been founded by the Ministry of Information to promote Croatian independence and the interests of the Tudjman regime. The CIC was led by Croatian Jadranka Cigelj, vice-president of Tudjman’s party, who wanted to bring the Serb rapes to the world’s attention.

Cigelj claimed to have been raped herself in the Omarska camp, but issued conflicting versions of her ordeal over the years.

The first reports about rapes were published by women’s groups around Cigelj and the CIC.  Piles of testimony were forwarded to Western women and the press.  At the time there was no talk of a systematic rape campaign by the Serbs, but in the Summer of 1992 the Bosnian government made new evidence available, which originated from the State Commission for War Crimes in Sarajevo.  This institute claimed to have 20,000 well-documented cases on file, and stated that the rapes were intended to conceive as many ‘Serb children’ as possible.  Many victims were told during the rapes:  ‘You are going to deliver a Chetnik.’  Towards that end the women were held captive until the moment that an abortion had become too great a medical risk, according to Sarajevo.

From that moment on reporters stumble over each other to supply theireditors with rape stories.  The dance was opened on August 23rd 1992 byNewsday reporter Roy Gutman, whose journalistic CV was published in this paper on January 31st, 1996.  In his articles about Serb rapes, written in cooperation with Cigelj and the Bosnian Ministry of the Interior, and based on just a couple of testimonies, he wrote that Muslim women were ‘systematically’ raped and that the orders came from ‘circles around Karadzic’.  He never produced any evidence, but was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his reports.

In Germany too, the item became a hot issue, thanks to the efforts of the ‘Internationale Gesellschaft fuer Menschenrechte (IGMF) in Frankfurt.

This association presents itself as the German counterpart of Amnesty International.  In reality, though, it is a propaganda institute with its roots in Association of Russian Solidarists (NTS) which was founded by expatriates.  During the war the NTS worked for the Nazis and for the Croatian Ustashe, who managed to kill hundreds of thousands Serbs and to make Sarajevo the first ‘judenreine’ (cleansed of Jews – FT) city in Europe.  After the war the NTS stayed in contact with the Croatian nationalists who had gone in hiding, now under the human rights banner.

Among the NTS supported ‘prisoners of conscience’ were for instance Dobroslav Paraga, the leader of the extreme-right Croatian JusticeParty, and Ante Paradjik, co-founder of the fascist HOS-militia.

The association, which was renamed IGFM in 1981, led a publicity campaign against the Sandinistas in the eighties; they were accused of running camps where opponents were tortured, raped and murdered on a massive scale.  The Nicaraguan campaign was a market testing exercise for the offensive which the IGFM, together with the CIC, started in 1991.  Apart from Germany, Austria, and the Vatican the world did not like Tudjman, a virulent nationalist, anti-semite and admirer of the Ustasha regime.

These nasty associations with the new Croatia needed to be shielded off from world attention by presenting the Serbs as the sole aggressors.

The offensive was backed up by the American PR bureau of Ruder & Finn,which worked for the Croatian government.  Ruder & Finn had experience with similar projects ever since their first campaign, in 1967, for the Nigerian break-away province of Biafra.  It then followed a two-pronged strategy:  first it presented the Nigerian government as the ruthless aggressor, then it painted Biafra as the defenceless victim of hunger and terror.  For the benefit of Muslims and Croats, Ruder & Finn used the same strategy, but this time with the aid of modern electronics, databases and media training.  Later on, more PR bureaus were used.

The exercise became a sensational success, not in the last place because of the documentation supplied by the CIC and IGFM.  President of the IGFM branch in Zagreb was Albert Bing, who was also a member of the CIC;vice-president was Jadranka Cigelj.

The German public became most alarmed by the accounts of reporter Alexandra Stiglmayer in ‘Die Weltwoche’ and ‘Stern’, which were re-printed in countless other papers.  Basing herself on an anonymous Bosnian source, ‘Besima’, Stiglmayer wrote that 2,000 women were held captive and raped in a school in the village of Doboj.  German TV-reporter Martin Lettmayer and his Bosnian interpreter immediately went to Doboj for an investigation, but found nothing of the kind in the village.  Even the local Muslims were shocked and rejected Stiglmayers claims.  Lettmayer checked other rape stories and came to the conclusion that those, too, had been made up.  His report appeared in the March 10, 1994, issue of ‘Weltwoche’, but nobody would buy his TV reports.  “They definitely need to be broadcast,” said one editor, “but I am not going to risk my job.”

Ever since, ALL stories about Serb rape camps have been proved false, but the idea that the Serbs were compulsive rapists had deeply sunken in by the end of 1992.  During the December, 1992, EU summit the European leaders condemned the Serb rapes even though not a single serious investigation had been carried out.  In order not to remain empty-handed, a committee under the leadership of British politician Anne Warburton was ordered to report on the rapes of Muslim women. Mind you:  only of Muslim women.  Moods were such that no-one wanted to hear about other victims.  The committee informed itself at the Croatian Ministry of Public Health, spoke with just four victims (two males and two females), yet called the number of 20,000 women ‘reasonable’ in its final report.

Committee member Simone Veil dissociated herself from the report and Warburton failed to show up for the final hearings, where the reportwas called imperfect.


Yet the figure of 20,000 was used everywhere and exaggerated still. ‘Newsweek’ mentioned 30,000 to 50,000 victims in January of 1993. ‘Paris Match’ opened with a picture of three distressed Bosnian women and the text:  “Like them, 60,000 other Bosnian women were raped.” The ‘New York Times’ went as high as 100,000.  These figure were obtained by multiplying what few testimonies there were with an enormous factor. The reasoning behind it was that in war time rape is less often reported to the authorities, hence the real figure must be much higher than the reported number of cases.  On the other hand propaganda and rumours are abundant in war time, which means that the number of reported cases was already highly inflated.  Jerome Bony, reporter for ‘Envoye special’, the prestigous foreign affairs program of ‘France2’ experienced this when he followed up on a lead:  “Fifty kilometers from Tuzla I was told to go to the school building because there were 4,000 raped women there. At twenty kilometers the figure had gone down to 400 (…) and upon our arrival we found four women who wanted to testify.”

An often-used but dubious source was Borislav Herak, a Serb soldier who had been captured by Bosnian government forces; a death sentence for war crimes had not been executed and Herak was allowed to tell his story for the Western media.  He never stopped talking of rape, torture and murder.

Alas, all his stories contradict one another, which is not surprising since Herak is mentally retarded.  “He tells his audience whatever they want to hear,” says Finnish reporter Vesa Toijonen, who was present during several of Herak’s interviews.  Nonetheless the American John Burns did a major interview with Herak and saw it published in the ‘New York Times’.  It brought him the Pulitzer Prize.

Statements from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Red Cross that all parties involved were guilty of rape, and that no systematic pattern could be found in the Serb’s madness went unnoticed.

Worse even, these organisations were unashamedly presented as sources in articles about rape camps.  A different story came from the feministSusan Brownmiller, author of the standard publication on rape ‘Against Our Will’ (1975).  She wrote in ‘Newsweek’ that the Serbs were at most ‘the bad guys’ because they conquered the most territory:  “To women there is alas nothing unique in mass rapes (..), nor is it unique that a country’s leaders, weeping for emotion, present structural sexual violence as a conspiracy against their national pride, masculinity and honor”

At the beginning of 1993 there was still just one official report on rape available, a UN document dated December 18th, 1992, which dealtwith the rape of Serb women.  It had been embargoed for weeks; later onit was distributed in very small numbers.  Jacques Merlino, the assistant editor-in-chief of ‘France2’, who wanted to check the rape reports, writes in his account of his search for this document that he only obtained it after months of asking (‘Les verites Yougoslaves nesont pas toutes bonnes a dire ‘ – 1993).  After reading it myself I can understand why.  It contains well-documented testimony, medical details and other material that could have been checked by independentinvestigators – and hence have shattered the anti-Serb image.

In the meantime UN rapporteur for former Yugoslavia, TadeuszMazowiecki, was conscientiously collecting data on all sorts of war crimes.  He reported at regular intervals; in his reports especially the Serbs were blamed.  Yet, in his most alarming report (dated February 26th, 1993), he concludes that rape was common practice among ALL warring factions.  But Mazowiecki was a rapporteur in the broadest sense; he had to deal with countless issues at the same time.

The only body involved with the subject in a really investigative way was the UN committee of experts which started work in October 1992 under the presidency of University of Leiden (The Netherlands – FT) Professor Frits Kalshoven.  This committee investigated all accusations of war crimes, set up a documentation system in Chicago, and attempted to find patterns in the collection of data holding victims, perpetrators, places and dates.  Rotterdam University Professor Tinke Cleiren, the committee’s member specialising in sexual violence, stated that the omnipresence of rape and murder depressed her most:  “All parties are guilty of everything.”  The committee soon found out that it was extremely difficult to separate authentic testimony from propaganda.

Kalshoven resigned in mid-1993 because of a serious illness, which waspossibly related to his dissatisfaction with the quality of the collected data.

“There is a lot of material to start court cases with,” he wrote in apublication, “but very little that will serve in evidence.”  His task was taken up by American professor Cherif Bassiouni. When the final report was published in 1994, the real news about rape was to be found in paragraph 239.  There, the researchers come to the conclusion that the Bosnian Commission for War Crimes, which had claimed to have 20,000 well-documented cases on file, on closer inspection had only 105 rape victims in their dossiers.  The committee goes on to say that, despite repeated attempts, it had failed to prove the existence of Serb rape camps.  The committee was ‘…under the impression that in certain areas there existed a systematic rape policy, but it is as yetunproven that such a policy existed with regards to all non-Serbs.’

Alas, the report is unclear about what the committee understands by’systematically’.  What exactly did the Serbs do what the Croats andthe Muslims did not do?  Cleiren, employed at the Dutch Justice Ministry nowadays, gives, at my request, an important qualification.

Cleiren:  Our data-analysis justified the conclusion that the Serbs systematically committed war crimes.  But this does not exclude that the other parties acted likewise.”

The Bassiouni committee had filtered out 800 reliable cases in the end,divided over all parties, but the Serb rape policy remained on thereporters’ repertoire.  In 1995 ‘Vrij Nederland’ (a Dutch weekly – FT) published a report which had been written in cooperation with the IGFM and Jadranka Cigelj, in which all ‘topoi’ surface once again, including the ‘20,000 well-documented cases’.  The weekly even printed the bank account number of IGFM.

Kalshoven, on the contrary, is adamant in his rejection of the myth. He has retired, but is still ‘alive and kicking’.  During our telephone conversation his aversion is undiminished.  Kalshoven:  “Terms like ‘genocide’ came all too easily from the mouths of people like Bassiouni, an American Professor at Law, who has to establish a reputation and to work on ‘fund-raising’.  In my opinion these terms were way out of line.

‘Genocidal rape’ is utter nonsense.  ‘Genocide’ means extermination, and it is of course impossible to exterminate people and make them pregnant at the same time.  It is a propaganda term which was used against the Serbs right from the start, but I have never found any indication that rape was committed systematically by any of the parties – and I understand by ‘systematically’:  ‘ordered by high-up’.”

“Yet Bassiouni found a certain system in what the Serbs did.  Was thatconclusion completely wrong ?”

Kalshoven:  “You must not forget that Bassiouni was only able to reporton the first stages of the war.  At that time the Serbs conquered vast territories, hence their war crimes were of a grander scale.  But the Croats and the Muslims, then as well as later on, took revenge wherever they could.  And they had by far the best ‘public relations’, much better than the Serbs had.  I had the tremendous problems to obtain evidence from the Serbs, though they sometimes held clear testimony with lots of photographs.  They were completely convinced that the whole world was against them.”

A complete domestic industry centered around the Serb mass rape campaign exists nowadays; its gospel is preached at conferences, in women’smagazines, in books.  One part of these products is targeted at the Western feminist market; it preaches that all men are rapists, just waiting for the order from above; another part is Croatian and Muslim propaganda.  Of course the genres are often mixed.  Recently I received the book “Breaking the Wall of Silence” (1996) by Bosnian journalist Seada Vranic in the mail; it came from hitherto unsuspected ‘Press Now’ in Amsterdam.  The book opens with eleven accounts of rape victims, which I believe to be authentic, but then Vranic launches her own ‘analysis’ based on the data of the discredited Bosnian State Commission for Warcrimes, an exercise which inevitably ends in the by now well-know high numbers and big words.

Vranic does realise that those big numbers require an explanation, even if the Serb leadership at the time had issued express orders to rape. After all, it is unlikely that so many rapes would have been committed just at the orders from high-up.  Fortunately Vranic found a psychiatrist – there’s quite a couple of them walking around freely on the Balkans as a result of the war – who explained to her that Serb males have erections out of sheer hatred, incited by the ‘…age-old propaganda against their neighbours’, and they also are sexuallyaroused by the sound of one-string violins.  I cannot help it, it’s written in black on white.

Elsewhere in the book Vranic writes that ‘not a single independent investigation has proved that the army of Bosnia and Herzegovinacommitted rapes.’  Maybe ‘Press Now’ ought to invite Mrs. Vranic to The Hague.


Stiglmayer has joined forces with eleven other authors in ‘Mass rape:the War against Women in Bosnia-Herzegovina’ (1996).  The book is unashamedly hybrid, and therefore the most readable of what was published so far.  It contains, among other contributions , Brownmiller’s enlightening article from ‘Newsweek’.  Stiglmayer’s own chapter, on the other hand, contains an extensive interview with Borislav Herak.  “It is probably a set-up, but nonetheless revealing’ she writes above it.  American legal expert Catherine McKinnon claims in her contribution that the Serbs recorded their rapes on video, as a kind of ‘mass produced’ sadistic pornography.  Alas, no such tapes have ever surfaced.  Ourightly offending is ‘Rape Warfare:  The Hidden Genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia’ (1996) by Beverly C. Allen, an American professor at Literature, Italian and Women’s Studies.  A fatal combination, it turns out.  A Croatian student gave her the first rape stories and at the same moment she stopped thinking.  She now attends women’s conferences in Zagreb, she believes everything that Cigelj wants her to believe, and attacks the Serb ‘femicide’ with tautologies that have the size of cathedrals.  She describes Cigelj’s rape account as ‘an example of systematic genocidal rape in a rape/extermination camp inside a concentration camp where rape is part of the torture that precedes murder.’  She might be close friends with Vranic’s psychiatrist, were it not that Allen prefers other evidence.

Thanks to her knowledge of the Italian language she discovered the obscure booklet ‘Noi, criminali di guerra’ (1994) by Giusseppe Zaccaria.  This Italian jounalist claims to have obtained ‘authentic’ Serb documents from the Bosnian government.  The document s make clear that the Serb leadership stimulated violence against female Muslims and Croats – the weakest group within the opponent side – to hasten the ethnic cleansing process.  But the Bosnian government produced falsifications before, and the Zaccaria papers are suspect.  They also prove that Unprofor general Lewis Mackenzie, in broad daylight, abused young Muslim women in Serb rape brothels.  The papers were given to Zaccaria at a time when Sarajevo had grave differences of opinion with Unprofor.  Please judge for yourself.  Allen considers the Zaccaria document as the ultimate proof of the Serb ‘systematic genocidal rapecampaign’.  To support her view she quotes all atrocities from the Mazowiecki and Bassiouni reports without explaining that most quotes relate to ALL warring factions, not just the Serbs.

Reporters and researchers, with the best of intentions, have allowedthemselves to be used and their one-sided reports have undeniably helped many victims.  Care for raped refugees in Croatia received a financial injection, there are indications that the number of rapes by Serbs diminished as a result of the world-wide attention, and rape from now on is a ‘full-blown’ war crime.

On the other hand:  the Serb victims have been left out on their own: Nobody wanted to know who they were, and where they were held captive, even though several Bosnian prison camps were within reach of the hordes of reporters in Sarajevo.  Gutman has alway s categorically denied that the Bosnian government ran camps.  The most important objection against such a line of action is of course that a mythical picture of the enemy is a breeding ground for new wars.  But there are colleagues who believe that is no problem.

Aart Brouwer

(c) 1997 De Groene Amsterdammer – sept 3 1997