A Bosnian Serb pleaded guilty Monday to raping four Muslim women in an eastern Bosnian town in 1992. It marked the first time an international court won a conviction treating rape - in and of itself - as a war crime.
Dragoljub Kunarac pleaded guilty to a crime against humanity. He is only the third suspect convicted by the U.N. court prosecuting atrocities the former Yugoslavia - and the first convicted of rape.
A war crimes court in Tokyo after World War II included rape in a series of offenses allegedly constituting crimes against humanity, but this was the first conviction in a case dealing exclusively with rape as a war crime.
Kunarac, 37, faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
He pleaded innocent to three torture charges related to his alleged participation in what prosecutors called a systematic Serb campaign of sexual assault in the town of Foca.
After the brief hearing, Kunarac’s attorney Slavisa Prodanovic said Kunarac “pleaded guilty because he feels guilty. … He knows he can trust the tribunal 100 percent” to treat him fairly.
Kunarac, unshaven and wearing a dark suit and tie, apparently took the tribunal by surprise with his guilty plea. There was no immediate word on when he would be sentenced.
Judges scheduled a hearing for Tuesday to give prosecutors time to decide whether to drop the three other charges to avoid a lengthy and costly trial.
International human rights observers have accused forces in the Bosnian conflict of using the systematic rape of women as a weapon to terrify and traumatize ethnic groups.
According to his 1996 indictment, Kunarac raped four women captured after rebel Serbs overran Foca. He also was accused of beating female prisoners and allowing them to be gang-raped by members of a paramilitary unit he commanded.
The beatings and the surrender of women to be raped by others were covered in the three torture counts to which Kunarac pleaded innocent.
In one incident, the indictment said Kunarac raped one woman and left another, identified by the code name FWS-75, at the mercy of his men.
“For about three hours, FWS-75 was gang-raped by at least 15 soldiers. … They sexually abused her in all possible ways,” the indictment said.
Prisoners - some as young as 12 years old - were subjected to “humiliating and degrading conditions of life, to brutal beatings and to sexual assaults, including rapes,” the indictment said.