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Human Rights Quarterly 22.2 (2000) 428-477

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Surfacing Children: Limitations of Genocidal Rape Discourse

R. Charli Carpenter *

Thus from a Mixture of all Kinds began,
That Het'rogenous Thing, An Englishman:
In eager Rapes and furious Lust begot,
Betwixt a Painted Britton and a Scot: . . .
In whose hot Veins new Mixtures quickly ran,
Infus'd betwixt a Saxon and a Dane.
While their Rank Daughters, to their Parents just,
Receiv'd all Nations with Promiscuous Lust. . . . 1

From Daniel Defoe, The True-Born Englishman

I. Introduction

The ethnic conflict in the former Yugoslavia put war crimes against women on the international human rights agenda for the first time in history. 2 In response to reports of tens of thousands of women being raped, mutilated, [End Page 428] and executed in concentration camps as part of a systematic policy of ethnic cleansing, the international community took action against genocide for the first time since Nuremberg. 3 In the process of addressing both rape and genocide, feminist legal scholars began to discuss rape as genocide, and their arguments hinged in large part on the evidence of a policy of forced impregnation. 4 Evidence of forced impregnation helped excite moral sentiment because rape-induced pregnancy was presented as a worse crime against women than rape itself, and it helped frame rape as genocidal because of pregnancy's unique role in corroding the victimized culture.

A discussion of the children born of the rapes was missing in the debate about the atrocities against women and culture. This is surprising in two respects. First, the issue of forced impregnation was inextricably linked to the genocide and because forced impregnation by definition implies the birth of children, the children of the rapes were clearly a party within the genocidal equation. Nevertheless, the particular status of the children of rapes (as rights-bearers, victims of genocide or other crimes, or refugees of war) was addressed only peripherally and never in the context of forced impregnation itself.

Failing to connect the fate of rape victims and the fate of their children in legal discourse was doubly surprising because of the widespread public awareness of the children's plight in the early 1990s. A series of news articles on the children of war-rape filled the Western press as the abandoned children filled orphanages in 1992. 5 Indicating a public sensitivity to their fate and an awareness of their existence, Western families mobilized to retrieve the stigmatized children from the war zone, but the Bosnian and Croatian governments refused to permit the children to leave [End Page 429] the region. 6 By the time the War Crimes Tribunal and the International Criminal Court debated genocidal rape and forced impregnation as crimes against women, the war-rape orphans had dropped out of the sight of human rights scholars and advocates. 7

The purpose of this paper is twofold. The first task is to unpack the discursive politics that lay behind the marginalization of children as victims of human rights abuses in the former Yugoslavia. To this end, this paper will begin by examining the literature in which forced impregnation was articulated as a distinct crime and next attempt to identify the discursive devices through which forced impregnation was presented as a gender issue only. It will then argue that the plight of war-rape orphans escaped notice because the legal discourse that articulated forced impregnation as a distinct crime was framed in such a way as to: 1) marginalize the children as subjects of human rights law and 2) identify them with the perpetrators, rather than the victims, of genocide.

Secondly, this paper will attempt to bring to light the situation of war-rape orphans and the legal framework in which to assess their plight and to suggest redress. This subsequent section represents an attempt to carve out thinking space in which to address the particular case of war-rape orphans vis-à-vis other war crimes victims in Bosnia. It is important to emphasize that this paper is calling for a discussion rather than issuing definitive arguments. Some of the important...


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