Prosecute War Crimes

LAST summer, a United Nations commission on Balkan war crimes released a report on atrocities committed in Bosnia-Herzegovina, including ``ethnic cleansing'' and sexual abuse.

Referring to the detention camps where many rapes were to have taken place, it said ``grave breaches'' of international humanitarian law had been committed in a ``brutal ... and degrading manner.'' The commission submitted its report to the UN's International Tribunal on war crimes, based in The Hague. The tribunal included rape among the crimes it planned to investigate and prosecute.

It was an important step. In war, where there is such a magnitude of concerns, rape is rarely a focus. Historically, it has been tolerated as a spoil of war. That is why credit is due to those who have made the plight of these women and children known: the UN; Amnesty International; an investigative body from the European Union, which last year estimated that about 20,000 Muslims had been raped by Serbian soldiers; and the few centers set up to help. There was an outcry when the rest of the world learned what was happening, and this reflects, among other things, an increased appreciation for the rights of women.

That outcry must not turn into a murmur. Rape is no longer taking place on the scale it once was in Bosnia, but it continues. Most of the victims still live in war conditions with few resources. More places of shelter are needed, such as the Medica center for women war victims, opened in Kakanj by volunteers from Germany and Italy. The volunteers say the center's biggest problem is lack of capacity to help more women.

The UN General Assembly should do what it can to fund the international war-crimes tribunal properly. Though the tribunal's budget has been shrunk and the world seems to be retreating further from Bosnia's plight, the UN must begin to bring the perpetrators to justice.

This won't be easy. In the 18 months since it was created, the tribunal has been bogged down by insufficient funds and resources. It took a year to appoint a prosecutor. Now that former South African Judge Richard Goldstone has been named to the post, he has begun to make progress.

Volunteers for the UN war crimes commission said they were impressed with the Bosnian women's strength and determination. Their testimony was often ``a healing practice in itself,'' they said. That testimony must not go unanswered.

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