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If this is 'peace', when does it start for women?

'The word "reconciliation" hurts me', Bakira Hasecic says. 'All I want is for those who have hurt me to be brought to justice.'

Jenny Morgan
26 May 2011

Bakira arrived late at the Nobel Women's Initiative conference at Montebello, an envoy from a nightmare period of ethnic cleansing and mass rape nearly twenty years ago. The US-brokered Dayton Accords may have stopped the killing in Bosnia, but Bakira, founder of the Association of Women Victims of War, is not living in peace.  'It's difficult when you meet perpetrators who are still at large -- so many thousands of them. You see them on a daily basis, and know what they have done to you and your neighbours -- and they snigger at you, and smirk.'

Bakira is from Visegrad, a town in eastern Bosnia that was over 60 per cent Muslim before the Serb nationalist onslaught in 1992. Now the town is in the Serb entity, Republika Srpska, and is predominantly Serb; very few Muslims have returned -- their houses were razed, and have not been rebuilt. Women survivors of the mass rapes committed systematically by Serb forces have, says Bakira, been 'left to their own devices'.

In Visegrad, the Serb warlord Milan Lukic set up headquarters in the Vilina Vlas hotel, a tourist resort. The UN reported in 2004 that up to 200 women had been held there as sexual slaves: kept handcuffed in locked rooms; in one description, thrown bread that they had to catch with their teeth; and killed -- since fewer than ten are reported to have emerged alive from the Vilina Vlas.

Bakira Hasecic was raped by Lukic in the basement of the police station. She'd known him from before the war, and thought he was joking when he told her to undress. But he wasn't joking. 'There isn't a switch in the brain that enables you to turn off trauma', she says nearly twenty years later.

Milan Lukic in the dock, on trial

Milan Lukić before the ICTY in The Hague, 2009
(Photograph provided courtesy of the ICTY)

Milan Lukic is serving a life sentence imposed on him by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia at The Hague, and his cousin, Sredoje, who was a paramilitary with him in Visegrad, is serving 30 years. The charge sheet against Milan Lukic included two episodes of mass murder, where his forces set fire to houses and shot anyone who tried to escape. A total of 140 women, children, and elderly people died in these massacres.

But what distresses Bakira Hasecic is that Milan Lukic has never been charged with rape. She says, 'I'll never forgive Carla del Ponte (the chief prosecutor at the ICTFY)', whom she regards as having made the fatal decision to charge Milan Lukic with murder and other crimes against humanity, but not with rape. The day before the trial began, the trial chamber rejected a last-minute application to have rape and sexual slavery added to the charge sheet -- a decision that Kelly Askin, senior legal officer for the Open Society Justice Initiative, described at the time as 'punishing the victims'.

'The only justice', Bakira says now, 'is that the crime is named. Even if he only got one year for the rapes, the crime must be named.'

But if Lukic is in prison for the rest of his life, isn't that 'justice'? Hasecic looks down at the table, and her eyes fill suddenly with tears. 'I can bathe and bathe for ever -- I will feel dirty for as long as I live.'

In this distressing absence of peace, Angelina Jolie's decision to write and direct a film about the Bosnian war whose plot is understood to involve a Bosnian rape victim falling in love with her Serb abuser is perceived as acutely insulting. Jolie has denied that these 'rumours' about the plot are true, and asked for Bosnian audiences to judge her on the film, but Bakira is unconvinced.  'Angelina Jolie does not realise what kind of pain she has inflicted on us', she says, and her organisation has asked the UN High Commission for Refugees to remove Jolie as a goodwill ambassador.

The Jolie film, 'In the Land of Blood and Honey', is due for release on December 23.

 

 

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