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Feature Conflict and Rape

After war, what next?

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: (Published 07 December 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c6910
  1. Sophie Arie, freelance journalist
  1. 1London, UK
  1. ariesophie{at}

The war in Bosnia was the first time the United Nations had been faced with mass rape as a weapon of war. Fifteen years after the Dayton Accords peace agreement, Sophie Arie talks to doctors in Sarajevo and discovers a culture of denial

In the summer of 1992, Sreko Simic, one of Bosnia’s leading gynaecologists, worked without electricity, anaesthetics, or oxygen and with only a skeleton staff, to keep delivering babies at Sarajevo’s University Hospital while the city was under siege.

The number of pregnancies his department dealt with dropped dramatically, and the numbers asking for abortions rose, he recalls. And then in the late summer of 1992, some months after the war began, the women who had been raped started to appear.

“Most of them came alone, at night, so no one would see them,” the 83 year old gynaecologist recalls.

“They were silent and full of shame and hatred. Often we would treat them but they would not speak. Some asked for abortions. Others gave birth and then rejected the child.”

Lost victims

Fifteen years later, and Dr Simic is still working at the University Hospital, a drab building with a few lost looking members of public in its bare and gloomy entrance hall and many staff smoking under a tree outside.

“I never saw any of those women again,” says Dr Simic. He does not recall treating any women since the war for gynaecological problems caused by the rapes.

In fact, many of the estimated 20 000 women and men who were raped or sexually abused during the war,1 often by gangs and often repeatedly over months, have not seen a doctor or any sort of mental health expert since.

For 15 years since the Dayton Accords brought an end to the war on 14 December, those who were …

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