The low-budget Grbavica, by Sarajevo director Jasmila Zbanic, took the Golden Bear for best film at the conclusion of the 56th Berlin festival on Saturday, in keeping with the annual event's reputation for showcasing hard-hitting, arthouse cinema.
Zbanic, whose film spotlights the hushed-up issue of the rape of 20,000 women during the 1992-1995 siege of Sarajevo, said: "War in Bosnia was over some 13 years ago and yet war criminals Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic still live in Europe freely.
"They've not been captured for organising the rape of 20,000 women in Bosnia and killing 100,000. This is Europe and no one is interested in capturing them. I hope that this will change your viewing on Bosnia."
Grbavica, the name of a suburb of Sarajevo but also a term for "woman with a hump" that refers to rape victims, is the story of a Muslim woman who tries to conceal the grisly truth of her past to protect her teenage daughter.
One of 19 competition films, Grbavica won heartfelt cheers at a screening on Sunday before Berlin's notoriously fickle press corps.
The film portrays a woman who
hides her past from her child
It was Zbanic's first feature-length film.
The eight-member jury led by actress Charlotte Rampling awarded two other films a share of consolation honours with Silver Bear Jury Prizes.
Iranian film Offside is about the futile efforts of women and girls to get into a football match in Tehran, and En Soap (A Soap) centred around a Danish woman and her increasingly intimate relationship with a transsexual living next door.
Best director award went to Britain's Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross for The Road to Guantanamo, a polemic against the US military prison, based on the accounts of three British Muslims held there without charge for two years.
Panahi's film is about women
trying to get into a football match
Winterbottom said: "Obviously if Guantanamo closes that would be a great thing.
"Before Guantanamo existed no one could have believed that the Americans would set up a prison in Cuba ... (and) would keep them without trial for four years."
Two Germans won the best acting Silver Bear awards, extending a fine run for home cinema in the five years since Dieter Kosslick took over the Berlinale.
Sandra Hueller was honoured for her performance in Requiem by director Hans-Christian Schmid, while Moritz Bleibtreu was selected as best actor for Elementarteilchen (The Elementary Particles) by director Oskar Roehler.
Road to Guantanamo received
the Best Director award
Bleibtreu told a news conference he had been handed a business card by a journalist near the beginning of the festival on which the reporter wrote that he would win the acting award.
"I got superstitious," Bleibtreu said.
"I thought, if I throw that thing away now I'm never going to get that award."
Juergen Vogel, another German, also won a Silver Bear for artistic contribution for his powerful portrayal of a serial rapist in Der Freie Wille (The Free Will).
"War in Bosnia was over some 13 years ago and yet war criminals Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic still live in Europe freely"
The Berlinale, one of the world's most prestigious film showcases, is the first of Europe's three major festivals each year.
There were 3600 journalists from 80 countries in Berlin.
The festival was set up in West Berlin in 1951 as an attempt to revitalise the city's artistic glory days of the 1920s, even though it still lay in ruins after the second world war.