“Come and See What God Has Done”: religious violence and sexual violence in the Bosnian War, 1992–1995

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University of New Brunswick


During the Bosnian War (1992–1995), between 20,000 and 50,000 women, and an unknown number of men, were victims of systematic and strategic sexual violence, leading to the rapid evolution of international law and jurisprudence around sexual violence in war. The lines of conflict in the former Yugoslavia were drawn across ethnoreligious lines, leading to the use of religiously imbued rhetoric, symbols, and violence. Religious and sexual elements of violence can be mapped using mass graves, rape camps, destroyed religious buildings, and the bodies of the dead. Despite repeated discourses, witness statements, and images that illustrate elements of both religious violence and sexual violence, there is very little literature about the Bosnian War that discusses the impact religion has on sexual violence. This dissertation analyzes court records, archived oral history interviews, and the stories of survivors recorded by journalists, activists, and scholars to locate incidents where religious violence and sexual violence intersected and impacted one another. I argue that, while religious violence and sexual violence are separate phenomena, they can operate together with a ‘miscible’ quality that compounds the suffering of victims. By analyzing the perpetration of such crimes in the 1990s, my research illustrates that religious markers worked within acts of sexual violence, producing important short-term and long-term impacts. Short-term impacts occurred within the incident of violence and included framing, identifying, (self) policing, and intensifying. Long-term impacts were consequences that went beyond the incident of violence and included normalizing sexualised violence, justifying sexual violence, claiming bodies and territories through forced conversions and branding, and deterring the return of refugees after the conflict. Exploring the relationship between religious violence and sexual violence gives new insights to these highly intimate and intentional forms of violence, but also indicates the way parts of violence are remembered or buried, and the on-going limitations of local justice and international law.