Friday, July 24, 2009

COMMENT: Horrific crimes against women in Bosnia ...

This month is the 14th anniversary of the massacre in Srebrenica, a city in the Republic of Bosnia Herzegovina (BiH). That massacre took place in July 2005 and saw some 8,000 men and boys massacred in cold blood in an area the United Nations had declared a "safe haven". Dutch peacekeepers were in the area "protecting" the civilians during the massacre. The massacre, deemed genocide by the International Court of Justice, is sometimes referred to as a gendercide in that Bosnian men were specifically targetted for slaughter.

Of course, women also suffered the most horrific crimes in the BiH conflict. A number of these are chronicled in Beverly Allen's 1996 book Rape Warfare: The Hidden Genocide in Bosnia Herzegovina and Croatia. The book seems to focus only crimes committed against Bosnian Muuslim and Catholic women as well as Croatian women, though we know that Bosnian and Croatian Orthodox Christian woman were also victims of atrocities by Bosnian Muslim, Catholic and Croatian forces.

Allen defines "genocidal rape" as:

... a military policy of rape for the purpose of genocide [then] practiced in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia by members of the Yugoslav Army, the Bosnian Serb forces, Serb militias in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, the irregular Serb forces known as Chetniks,and Serb civilians.

She identifies three kinds of genocidal rape. The first is where paramilitaries enter a village with a view to terrorising villagers into abandoning their homes. The soldiers ...

... take several women of varying ages from their homes, rape them in public view, and depart. The news of this atrocious event spreads rapidly throughout the village. Several days later, regular Bosnian Serb soldiers or Serb soldiers from the Yugoslav Army arrive and offer the now-terrified residents safe passage away from the village on the condition they never return.

The second form took place in concentration camps where women ...

... are chosen at random to be raped, often as part of torture preceding death.

The third form involved detaining women in rape centres where women would be repeatedly and systematically gang-raped (often until they were impregnated and safe abortions were not possible). Often women were kept in rape camps for weeks or months at a time. The rape facilities included:

... restaurants, hotels, hospitals, schools, factories, peacetime brothels, or other buildings; they are also animal stalls in barns, fenced-in pens, and arenas.

Allen notes that all such rapes constitute war crimes including genocide.

All forms of genocidal rape constitute the crime of genocide as described in Article II of the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

But as Amnesty International notes, thus far no one has been charged for mass-rape and other sexual crimes by the International War Crimes Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Rape victims don't seem to matter.

The then-leader of the Bosnian, Radovan Karadzic, is currently on trial, living in relative luxury compared to hundreds of innocent Afghans who have been detained and then released without charge at Bagram Airbase. Funny that.

COMMENT: The terror inquisition ...

I've come across a recently-published book (as in published in 2008) about the history of the Spanish Inquisition. It's called The Grand Inquisitor's Manual: A History of Terror in the Name of God and is authored by Jonathan Kirsch, a lawyer and journalist. It's a book for general reading, not an academic text. And it makes scary reading.

Kirsch compares America's domestic anti-terror adventures (and, by implication, Australia's) to the Medieval Inquisition of the Catholic Church in various parts of Europe, most notably in Spain.

More than a few unsettling parallels can be drawn between the medieval Inquisition and the modern war on terror. The FBI reportedly considered a plan to secretly monitor the sales of Middle Eastern foods in grocery stores in order to detect the presence of Muslim terrorists in America; the FBI later denied the report, but the whole notion echoes the readiness of the Spanish Inquisition to arrest young men of Muslim ancestry who were seen eating couscous. Federal law enforcement officers were, in fact, “ordered to search out and interview Muslim and Arab men between the ages of eighteen and thirty-three,” an inquisitio generalis that was intended to fl ush out a vast and secret conspiracy of alien terrorists.

I never liked couscous that much. But it's even scarier when you look overseas to warzones in Afghanistan and Iraq or to prisons (known and secret) where suspected terrorists are held.

The parallels are even more striking when it comes to American military and intelligence operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere around the world. Like the war on heresy in the Middle Ages, the war on terror has been the occasion for coining new and evasive phrases: “extraordinary rendition,” for example, refers to kidnapping a suspect off the streets and sending him to a secret prison in a “third country” where he can be subjected to “harsh interrogation techniques,” a euphemism for torture. Indeed, the technique now called waterboarding is precisely the same one that the friar-inquisitors of the Middle Ages called the ordeal by water, and the same one used by the Gestapo and the NKVD ...

The prisons are the same. Even the prison dress is the same.

The inquisitorial prisons, where victims could be held for years or even decades and tortured at will, find their counterparts in the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad and the detention facilities at the U.S. military base at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba. The notorious photograph of a naked and shackled Iraqi prisoner taken in a cellblock at Abu Ghraib features a specific item of apparel that was a favorite of the friar-inquisitors—the Iraqi man has been crowned with a conical “dunce’s cap” that resembles the coroza worn by victims of the Spanish Inquisition at an auto-da-fé. In both cases, the point of the headgear was to degrade and humiliate the victim.

Kirsch concludes with this assessment:

All the weaponry and tactics that have been deployed in the war on terror are justified by precisely the same theological stance once invoked in the war on heresy.

But what if the inquisitorial rhetoric of "war on terror" changes? Will many of these excesses cease to exist? Or will they be packaged and sold in a more clever and convincing way?