As Old as War Itself: Rape in Foca

As Old as War Itself: Rape in Foca

A glass wall covered by blinds separated the courtroom participants from the spectators in the public gallery, but a hush enveloped both sides when the witness known as FWS-50 began to speak. Although a voice modulator screened her identity from the public, other microphones in the room occasionally picked up the undisguised sounds of her anguish. Indicating one of the defendants, she said,
“I only know that he was very forceful, that he wanted to hurt me as much as possible. But he could never hurt me as much as my soul always hurt me.”

When the prosecutor asked why she had decided to testify after remaining silent for almost eight years, she said,
“[to] let it be known that it really happened. It’s not easier for me to speak about it today, but nevertheless, I wanted everyone to hear about it.”

She wanted everyone to hear about this: in the summer of 1992, at age sixteen, she was taken prisoner by soldiers near her village in Bosnia, held for two months, and raped so often that she lost count of how many times and how many men; she was raped vaginally, anally, and orally; she was gang raped by ten men at a time; she was raped by soldiers and paramilitary thugs; she was threatened with guns and knives while being raped; she was trapped in an apartment where she had to clean for the soldiers who raped her all night.

FWS-50 was one of thousands—some say twenty thousand—Muslim women sexually enslaved and tortured by Bosnian Serbs, Serbs, and Montenegrins during the Bosnian War of 1992-1995. She was one of sixteen women from the town of Foca (pronounced Fo’-cha) and its surrounding villages in southeastern Bosnia who agreed to testify in 2000 before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, located in The Hague. FWS-50 faced the men she was accusing—all three Bosnian Serbs, all three soldiers in the war, all three, like herself, born in Foca.

In pre-Ottoman times, Foca was one of the trading towns along the Drina River, located about thirty-two miles southeast of Sarajevo and about thirty miles southwest of its more famous neighbor, Visegrad, the setting for Nobel Laureate Ivo Andric’s The Bridge over the Drina. The Ottomans gave Foca its claim to fame in 1551 when they built the Aladza Mosque (Colored Mosque), which many considered the most beautiful mosque in the former Yugoslavia and one of the architectural jewels of Europe. Surrounded by trees, with its tall dome, triple-arched portico, and slender minaret rising more than a hundred feet to a point, the mosque was as much a town landmark in 1992 as it was in 1551. In 1992, the municipality of Foca included the nearby villages as well as the town. It was a mid-sized community—population 40,513—not very different from dozens of others in Bosnia. The ethnic breakdown was 51.6 percent Muslim, 45.3 percent Serbian, and 3.1 percent “other.”

On April 8, 1992, Serb forces supported by arti...