In this lesson, students will examine the unfortunately widespread and long standing phenomenon of wartime rape through a case study of the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal, convened in 1995 to prosecute atrocities committed during the 1993-1995 war in Bosnia.
In the Introductory Activity, students will discuss the background history of Yugoslavia and how the wars which accompanied its dissolution in the 1990s were a perfect storm of the factors–civil conflict, ethnic tension inflamed by propaganda, and irregular military forces–which most frequently result in wartime rape and other sexual crimes. In the Learning Activities, students will use video segments from the “I Came to Testify” episode of the PBS documentary series Women, War & Peace to more deeply explore the multiethnic nature of Yugoslavia under Marshall Tito, the unraveling of this peaceful coexistence due to political scapegoating and fear-mongering, the degeneration of the ensuing war into atrocities, the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal’s historical prosecution of rape and other sexual crimes as war crimes against humanity, and the bitter aftermath of these crimes in Bosnia’s now permanently altered political landscape. In the Culminating Activity, students will write research reports describing other recent conflict zones which have been characterized by widespread wartime rape, comparing and contrasting them with what they’ve learned about the Bosnian war.
This lesson is best used during or after a world history unit about contemporary geopolitics and on going military conflicts.
Students will be able to:
- outline the 20th century history of Yugoslavia and the Balkans
- describe what life was like in Marshall Tito’s Yugoslavia
- explain how and why the Yugoslavian multiethnic social fabric unraveled in the 1990s
- discuss why civil and ethnic conflicts have a tendency to devolve into war crimes
- describe why the establishment and mission of the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal set a historic precedent
- discuss the consequences of rape and other sexual crimes for both individual victims and their larger communities
(3-4) 45-minute class periods
For the class:
Part I: Introductory Activity
- Ask students who they think are generally the most directly involved in the fighting of wars. (Answers will vary, but will probably include soldiers.) Explain that wars have generally been fought by the military forces of opposing nations, but that there is another kind of war which has become increasingly common; ask students what they think this type of war might be. (Civil wars, fought within national boundaries.) Ask students if they think civil wars are fought between uniformed combatants. (Sometimes—as with the American Civil War—but not usually; explain that in most civil wars, there is a very blurred distinction between who is a uniformed combatant, who is an “irregular” or a “guerilla” combatant, and who is a civilian.) Ask students if they can think of any civil wars from their global history studies which fit this description. (Answers will vary, but suggest that one prominent example in recent years was the civil war—actually a series of civil wars--which accompanied the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.) Tell students that in this lesson they will be taking a closer look at one of the cruelest and bloodiest of those civil wars—that fought within the former Yugoslavian republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1993 to 1995.
- Ask students what they know about the history of Yugoslavia. (Accept all answers.) Distribute copies of the The History of Yugoslavia Student Organizer to each student, divide students into groups of 4-5, and have each group log on to BBC: Yugoslavia & The Balkans. Tell groups that they will have 30 minutes to complete their organizers with information provided on the website.
After 20 minutes have passed, have each group take turns presenting their answers to the class. Use the The History of Yugoslavia Student Organizer Answer Key as a prompt for additional questions and discussion of each answer.
Tell students that the Balkans have been a historically strategic crossroads far longer than the modern era covered by the BBC: Yugoslavia & The Balkans website. Ask students which three larger religious cultures intersect there. (Western European Catholic Christianity, Eastern European Orthodox Christianity, and Middle Eastern Islam.) Explain that even within these religious cultures, numerous national identities exist. Ask students if they can identify any. (Answers will vary, but point out that Slovenes and Croats, for instance, are generally both Catholic.) Explain that this ethnic and national diversity has been a source of tension in the region for centuries, during which time it has been overlain with a series of political boundaries of varying success.
- Ask students whether they think wars fought along ethnic and religious lines tend toward greater cruelty and bitterness than those fought along more purely political lines. (Accept all answers, but suggest that generally speaking, the greater the differences between combatants—both real and perceived—the deeper the hatred tends to run in war, and the deeper the hatred, the more likely atrocities are to be committed.) Ask students if they think atrocities are more or less likely to occur if a war is fought by paramilitary combatants--i.e. irregular, non-uniformed soldiers. (Accept all answers, but suggest that the more the line between combatants and civilian is blurred—as they are by irregular combatants—the more likely that atrocities will be committed.) Ask students who they think are most often the victims of wartime atrocities. (Civilians.) Ask students what they would consider an atrocity, or a “war crime.” (Accept all answers, but point out that civilian women have long been subjected to rape and other sexual crimes in wartime--particularly in civil wars fought along ethnic lines by irregular forces.) Tell students that as they will learn in this lesson, this was certainly the case during the most recent phase of Balkan political reconfiguration—the Yugoslavian civil wars in the 1990s.
Part II: Learning Activities
- Ask the class if they have ever heard of the term “balkanize.” (Accept all answers, but explain that it is defined as a verb meaning “to break up into smaller and often hostile units.”) Explain that while this term gained currency during the first wars of Balkan independence against the Ottoman Empire which began in 1912, and would be equally applicable to the violent dissolution of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, there was in fact a sustained period of peace, unity, and relative prosperity for the region from the end of World War II in 1945 until the first declarations of nationalist independence in 1991. Frame the first video by explaining that it contrasts the terrible reality of the 1990s civil war in Bosnia with what life had been like for decades in the multi-ethnic, multi-religious, and multi-national state that was Marshall Tito’s socialist Yugoslavia. Provide a focus by asking what happened to undo the peace which had prevailed there for so long. Play War Was In The Air.
- Review the focus question: what happened in the former Yugoslavia to undo the peace which had prevailed for so long? (Marshall Tito’s death in 1980 dealt a serious blow to the national unity he had forged; by the 1990s, Muslim and Croat leaders were pressing for independence while Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic and Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic were fueling fears of a Muslim takeover.) Ask students what they think had held Yugoslavian society together for so many decades. (Accept all answers, but explain that under the leadership of the charismatic war hero Marshall Tito, the disparate peoples of Yugoslavia saw themselves as living in something of a communist utopia, and if that utopia ultimately proved economically and politically unstable, it did succeed for a time in creating among its citizens a mutual respect for each other as Yugoslavians which transcended their differences and past hostilities.) Ask students what they think journalist Refik Hodzicmeant when he said “We had a saying that your neighbor is much more important than your brother.” (Accept all answers, but suggest that he is describing a process of sublimating one’s ethnic identity to the practical ideal of social harmony.) Ask students if they themselves agree with this saying. Why or why not? (Accept all answers.) Explain that, for better or for worse, the perspective Hodzic describes was in fact a large element of socialist/communist political philosophy, representing a utopian ideal of social equality over individual identity.
- Ask students how they think Yugoslavia’s multiethnic social solidarity could devolve so quickly into violent and dehumanizing hatred among its ethnicities.(Accept all answers.) Is there any historical precedent for such a change? (Accept all answers, but point out that while no European state had better integrated and embraced its Jewish population than interwar Germany, Hitler and the Nazis were quick to realize that Jews could easily and effectively be made scapegoats for the nation’s economic troubles.) Suggest that just as many Germans did not fully appreciate the dangers of Nazism until it was too late, Hodzic also claims that he “could never have anticipated what was going to happen” in Yugoslavia. Ask students what lesson might be learned here. (Accept all answers, but suggest that peace can never be taken for granted, and that societies need always be wary of those who sow division.) Frame the next video by telling students that it further underlines the historical parallels between Yugoslavia in the 1990s and Germany under the Nazis. Provide a focus question by asking what was historic about the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal established by the United Nations in 1993. Play Neighbor On Neighbor.
- Pause Neighbor On Neighbor at 1:14, after narrator Matt Damon says “The Serbs’ campaign of ethnic cleansing was advancing with devastating brutality.” Review the focus question:what was historic about the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal established in The Hague by the United Nations in 1993? (It was the first such tribunal in Europe since the Nuremburg Trials, and the first ever to be convened in the midst of a war.) Why was it convened? What had spurred the UN to action? (Extensive news coverage of the war.) What in particular had been so disturbing to international audiences about this news coverage of the war? (Atrocities against civilians were being reported on all sides.) Why was this especially upsetting to tribunal prosecutor Hildegard Uertz-Retzlaff? (Aside from her having a Yugoslavian husband, Uertz-Retzlaff is herself German, so she was well aware of what had happened during World War II, and how it had become assumed that such atrocities would never happen again in Europe.) Explain that Secretary of State Madeline Albright had also played a major role in catalyzing U.N. support for the Tribunal, and lobbied for the appointment of female judges to serve on it. Provide a focus for the next part of the video by asking what tribunal prosecutor Peggy Kuo jokingly says might have moved her to become a prosecutor. Resume playing Neighbor On Neighbor through to the end.
- Review the focus question: what does Peggy Kuo jokingly say might have moved her to become a prosecutor? (As a Taiwanese immigrant to a multiethnic New York City neighborhood, she grew up hearing the racial taunts and insults that kids would say when their parents weren’t around.) Suggest that although Kuo is joking, her comment invites an interesting comparison between the ethnic diversity of Bosnia and that of New York City. Log on to Interactive Map: Understanding the Dayton Accords and scroll down to the “Shifting Boundaries” interactive map at the bottom oft he page. Explain that the Interactive Map shows the ethnic demographics of Bosnia and Herzegovina before, during and after the war. Ask students what conclusion they would draw about the geographical distribution of ethnicities in pre-war Bosnia. (They are relatively intermingled, with no clear ethnic boundaries.) Ask students if this conforms with what they’ve heard about pre-war Yugoslavia. (It does.) Explain that this intermingling was in fact engineered by Tito, who sought to dilute Serb nationalism by dividing the Serb population into different political entities. Ask students what they think happened to the geographical distribution of Bosnia’s ethnicities during the war. (Accept all answers.) Click on the “Dayton Accords” tab of the Interactive Map, and explain that it shows the new borders of Bosnia as drawn up by peace negotiators in Dayton, Ohio in 1995. Explain that the Accord, which essentially divided Bosnia into a Serbian half and a Muslim-Croat half, was controversial because it was largely based not upon where ethnic populations had lived before the war, but rather on where they had since been relocated through the armed displacement of “ethnic cleansing.” Click on the “Present” tab of the Interactive Map and ask students to what degree Bosnians are ethnically intermingled today. (There's almost no intermingling; the Serbs are entirely within their own borders and even the Muslims and Croats have concentrated within different regions of their shared Federation.) What does this suggest about Bosnia’s prospects for national unity? (They are poor.)
- Ask students how they think Bosnia’s ethnic diversity differs from that of the United States. Are we more or less integrated? (Accept all answers.) Log on to America:Every City, Every Block. Explain that the maps on the website were created by the New York Times using data from the 2010 census, and that the default map shows the geographic distribution of various racial and ethnic groups in Peggy Kuo’s hometown of New York City. Ask students what their initial reaction to this map is. (Answers will vary, but some students will probably be surprised at the degree of racial and ethnic segregation.) Input other major cities and locations across the nation, including your own. To the extent that they are racially and ethnically diverse, are they similarly segregated? (Most large and diverse cities show patterns of relative racial and ethnic segregation.) Explain the “segregation” being discussed here is not the sort of legally mandated separation of races that once characterized much of the United States, but rather the tendency for different ethnicities and races to form enclaves where they exist in sufficient numbers. Tell students that the reasons behind this are complex, controversial, and beyond the scope of this lesson, but ask if they think the diverse yet largely divided populations of these cities exist in relative peace with each other. (They do.) Why is this? What binds these cities and this nation together?(Answers will vary, but suggest that we share a powerful political identity as Americans, as well as a more or less functional economic system.) Did Bosnia’s different ethnicities have either of these as the imposed political unity and artificially buttressed economy of Tito’s Yugoslavia crumbled? (No.)
- Ask students if they think the absence of political unity and economic stability left Bosnian Serbs vulnerable and receptive to fear-mongering and ethnic scapegoating from Serbian leaders like Slobodan Milosevic and Radovan Karadzic. (Yes.) How did they respond? (They withdrew their children from school with Muslims, and the men left for militia training.) Ask students what they had concluded earlier in the Introductory Activity about civil wars fought by paramilitary combatants. (That they tend to be particularly bitter, brutal, and fall heavily on the civilian population.) Ask students how they would define a “war crime.” (Accept all answers, but explain that it is commonly defined as actions taken in war that fall beyond the accepted conventions of war—particularly those actions taken against civilians; in other words, atrocities.) Ask if it makes sense for wars to have laws and conventions. (Accept all answers, but explain that traditionally, wars were fought by one side’s regular military forces against the other’s while observing more or less formal codes of conducts regarding such things as how to treat prisoners and civilians.) Ask if such codes are more or less likely to be observed by regular military or irregular paramilitary forces. (Paramilitary forces are more likely to break the codes and commit atrocities.) Why might this be? (Accept all answers, but suggest that they lack the training and discipline of regular troops; they also tend to be much more personally and emotionally motivated to fight than regular troops,who are generally motivated by an obligation to follow orders.) Ask students if they would consider rape a war crime. (Yes.) Provide a focus for the next video by asking how rape was dealt with at the famous trial of Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg after World War II. Play Building The Case.
- Pause Building The Case at 2:28, after Kuo say “It’s worth talking about, and it’s worth getting it out there, so at least even if we’re not prosecuting every single rape that occurs, that we’re acknowledging that this is what’s happening, and women’s experience during wartime.” Review the focus question: how was rape dealt with at Nuremberg? (Rape was not specifically dealt with, and women were by and large excluded from the proceedings, even as witnesses.) What has changed in the decades since then? (More women have entered the legal profession and gained positions of prominence, like those of the Tribunal prosecutors.) What were Kuo and her fellow female Tribunal prosecutors hoping to accomplish by prosecuting rape as a war crime? (To set a legal precedent that rape during conflict is a war crime—not an inevitable by-product of war—and should be prosecuted as such. They wanted to provide justice for the victims whose cases were tried at The Hague, and also hoped the sentences would deter future crimes.) Provide a focus for the remainder of the video by asking how rape had been deliberately used as a tactic by Serb forces in Bosnia. Resume playing Building The Case through to the end.
- Review the focus question: how had rape been deliberately used as a tactic by Serb forces in Bosnia? (Serb soldiers and paramilitary forces had used rape as a terror tactic, knowing that as word spread of women being raped, Muslim civilians would flee the Serb advance, effectively accomplishing “ethnic cleansing.”) What had happened to the Bosnian town of Foca during the civil war? (20,000 Muslims–half the prewar total population–had disappeared, their 14 mosques had been reduced to rubble, and the town itself had been renamed Serbina, or “Place of the Serbs.”) How many specific rapes are estimated to have occurred in Bosnia? (Between10,000 and 20,000, but perhaps over 50,000.) Ask students if they think it’s possible to come up with accurate figures for wartime rape victims. Why or why not? (Accept all answers.) What distinction does Refik Hodzic make between the short and long term effects of the rapes? (The short term effect had been the terrorization and displacement of Muslims, but the long term effect was “the destruction of the soul of communities.”) Ask students what they think he means by this. (That the Serbian rape offensive was not merely intended to displace Muslims, but to permanently destroy the very foundations of their society, in part by impregnating Muslim women with Christian Serb babies.) What was the historic step taken by the Hague Tribunal to address this? (The indictment of rape and other sexual crimes as specific war crimes, rather than burying them–as Nuremberg prosecutors had–beneath more general charges of “crimes against humanity” or “inhumane treatment.”) How many defendants were charged by the Tribunal? (Three.) Ask students what they think could be accomplished with a case against so few defendants, when it was clear that the rapes were far more widespread. (By prosecuting these three, an important and symbolic precedent in international law would be set.) Explain that many legal systems–including that of the United States–operate on a system of precedent to establish and justify new laws. Ask if students can think of any example in American history when a legal case involving a few individuals resulted in laws which dramatically affected the lives of the entire population. (Answers will vary but may include famous civil rights cases like Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954.)
- How does Refik Hodzic describe the importance of the Tribunal to Bosnia’s future? (As “the institution crucial to the hope for the recovery of Bosnian society.”) Ask students what they think he means. (That the Tribunal was more than three men on trial--it was also a symbolic trial of Bosnian society itself, and only by acknowledging and punishing these crimes could it begin to heal.) Who provided the key testimony against the three accused rapists? (16 Muslim women who had suffered rape and other sexual crimes in Foca during the war.) What challenges did they face in doing so? (Speaking of sexual crimes one has suffered is difficult under any circumstances, but doing so before a Tribunal of mostly male foreigners, while fearing retaliation in their still deeply divided homeland, required extreme courage.) What motivated them to overcome their fears and testify? (A desire for justice, and a sense of obligation to the many others like them who suffered similar crimes but were not getting their day in court.) Provide a focus for the next video by asking students if the witnesses’ testimony suggests that the Serb soldiers accused of rape acted on their own, independently. Play The Testimony Video.
- Review the focus question: does the witnesses’ testimony suggest that the Serb soldiers accused of rape acted on their own, independently? (No. The testimony indicates that rape was conducted by groups of Serbian troops who encouraged each other in the crimes, and who were in fact acting with the tacit encouragement of their commanders.) Why is this significant? (It emphasizes the guilt not only of the three Serbs on trial, but that of the Serb forces more generally, and even that of the Serbian civilians who witnessed and even encouraged the crimes while doing nothing to intervene.) How did Dragoljub Kunarac attempt to defend himself against these charges? (He claimed that he was “seduced” by his victim, and only had sex with her in a confused state, and against his will.) What did prosecutor Hildegard Uertz-Retzlaff do to refute this? (She needed only describe the utter absurdity of a frightened and captive woman wanting to have sex with her captor in front of his troops.) How does prosecutor Peggy Kuo say she responds to those who describe the witnesses as having been “humiliated” by their rapists and tormenters during the war? (She insists that the rapists and tormenters attempted to humiliate their victims, but the fact that those victims bore witness to these crimes is a testament to their enduring dignity and humanity.) Provide a focus for the next video segment by asking students how effectively digital obscuring of the witnesses' faces and voices during their testimony at the Tribunal would protect their identities back in Bosnia. Play Judgment And Legacy.
- Pause Judgment And Legacy, after narrator Matt Damon says “In Bosnia, the task of prosecuting war crimes fell to a disparate web of national and local courts spread across a country still fractured along ethnic lines.” Review the focus question: how effective was the digital obscuring of the witnesses’ faces and voices in protecting their identities back in Bosnia? (Not very effective. As Refik Hodzic notes, these measures would only keep them anonymous to complete outsiders; within their communities, their identities could be easily established.) What was the historic legacy of these women’s courageous testimony? (Rape, sexual assault, and sexual enslavement were established as specific "crimes against humanity,” setting a precedent in international law which will help protect women from such atrocities in future conflicts, and seek justice for those who’ve already suffered them.) Ask students how impactful they think this legal victory may actually be for women in conflict zones far from the courtrooms of The Hague. (Accept all answers.) Provide a focus for the next and final video segment by asking students how the residents of Foca responded to an attempt by Muslim women (including one of the key witnesses at the Tribunal) to place a memorial to those who had suffered rape and other sexual crimes there during the war. Resume playing Judgment And Legacy through to the end.
- Review the focus questions: how did the residents of Foca respond to an attempt by Muslim rape victims to place a memorial to those who had suffered sexual crimes there during the war? (They vigorously protested the memorial placement, shouting and gesturing across police barriers that “what happened, happened” and that the Muslim rape victims should get out of their now mostly Serbian town.) Since the Tribunal, how many wartime rapes have been prosecuted by local Bosnian authorities? (28.) What does this very low number, along with the response of Foca’s Serb residents to the memorial placement, suggest about the nature of civil wars? (Accept all answers, but suggest that in a civil war like Bosnia’s, hatreds and wounds of neighbors turned enemies run particularly deep for being that much more intimate, personal, and lingering.) What does it suggest about the nature of sexual crimes against humanity? (Accept all answers, but suggest that it confirms Hodzic’s claim that rape “destroys the souls of communities,” poisoning relationships between entire peoples with fear, shame and angry refusals to even acknowledge sexual crimes, let alone seek justice for their victims.)
Part III: Culminating Activity
- Explain to students that despite the successful convictions of the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal, rape and other sexual crimes continue in conflict zones across the world--virtually all of which share some fundamental characteristics with the war in Bosnia by virtue of being civil wars, fought along ethnic lines, largely by poorly trained and disciplined irregular troops. As homework, have students research the nature and extent of rape and other sexual warcrimes against humanity in one of the following recent conflicts:
- The civil war in Sri Lanka (1983-2009)
- The civil war in Sierra Leone (1991-2002)
- The war in the Darfur region of Sudan (2003-2009)
- The identities of the opposing sides (e.g. ethnic,political, and/or religious)
- The war aims of the opposing sides and the extent of their realization (e.g. defeat, displacement, and/or extermination of the opposing sides)
- The military composition of the opposing sides’ combatants (e.g. regular military vs. irregular paramilitary)
- The number and nature of the sexual crimes against humanity committed in each conflict
- Whether or not rape was deliberately used as an organized terror tactic
- International response and/or intervention and its effect (if any)
- Whether sexual war crimes prosecutions have been conducted
- Parallels and/or similarities with the 1993-1995 war in Bosnia