For women raped during Bosnian War, still no end to pain 25 years later

The Mainichi,
April 9, 2018

nearly 20 years has passed since the end of the Bosnian War following the
breakup of Yugoslavia, for the women who experienced traumatic violence and
sexual assault in the name of “ethnic cleansing”, the battle
Mectuseyac, right, speaks about support for women who were the victims of
sexual assault during the Bosnian War in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, on
March 9, 2018.
Bosnia-Herzegovina – In March 1992, the Socialist Republic of Bosnia and
Herzegovina declared its independence from the Socialist Federal Republic of
Yugoslavia, ushering in a civil war between Bosniaks and Croats versus the
Serbs who were against the decision. While all three groups are Slavic, the
Bosniaks are mainly Muslim, while the Serbs are Orthodox and the Croats
Catholic. A peace agreement was reached in 1995, but the region was left with
over 200,000 casualties and some 2.5 million refugees and evacuees. 

year, the curtain closed on the International Tribunal for the Prosecution of
Persons Responsible for Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law
Committed in the Territory of the Former Yugoslavia since 1991, set up in 1993
in The Hague, Netherlands, by the United Nations to try war crimes committed
during the fighting in the region. The end to the tribunal can be seen on one
hand as the end of one segment of the postwar process. However, the women there
still carry the deep emotional wounds of their sexual assault a quarter of a
century later.
April 1992, in the town of Visegrad in eastern Bosnia-Herzegovina. The town
with a population of over 60 percent Muslim Bosniaks is being overrun by a
large number of Serbian soldiers. The militants steal any valuables from the
households and kill any man who resists. The women are raped. This is the face
of ethnic cleansing — the thorough eradication of another ethnic group through
The house
of Amela Mectuseyac, now 45, was surrounded by some 20 Serb soldiers. Amela,
her mother and younger sister were the only ones inside. Amela was struck in
the head before being raped in front of her family. Afterwards, she and her
sister were able to escape to the house of an acquaintance in a nearby town,
but their mother who was left behind endured being raped innumerable times.
women have come to be the target of sexual violence during conflicts, including
World War II, but in the conservative nature of the local society, women who
have been raped are divorced by their husbands and left with nowhere to go.
Because of this, the women here have kept their suffering a tight-lipped
is revenge against war criminals,” said Amela’s now 64-year-old mother
Bakira Hasecic. In 2003, eight years after the peace agreement was signed, she
started the very first civil group devoted to providing support for the women
who had been raped during the conflict. Amela was also involved.
At first,
only a few women came forward. They were labeled as “women who had been
raped” and drew criticism from the public. Amela and the other women held
lectures, and used local media appearances to convey the horrors of their
experiences. Slowly, other victims started to gather. By 2006, a total of 2,707
women had come forward, and they requested that the government recognize rape
as a war crime.
After the
war, Bosnia and Herzegovina was divided into two constitutional and legal
entities within the country, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, led by
Bosniaks and Croats, and the Serb-led Republika Srpska (Serb Republic).
government of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina recognized the violence
against the women as war crimes, and came to provide them with roughly 500
convertible marks (about 33,000 yen) a month in subsidies.
But the
women’s testimonies have also made a difference in another way. With more and
more stories being told by the women, the atrocities carried out by war
criminals during the conflict have come under the spotlight. So far, the
testimonies of roughly 6,250 women have been gathered, and used to prosecute
the perpetrators of war crimes.
this had led to problems as well. The women who speak as witnesses in court
have to relive the terror of their attack, and in many cases it exacerbates
their post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Psychological support for the
women before and after their testimonies is imperative, but government support
is not reaching them. On top of that, of the several dozen thousand estimated
rape victims in the country, only about 800 are receiving government aid.
That’s because requesting the compensation automatically outs a woman as a
victim publicly.
Suljevic, 52, was held captive in her home in the northern city of Brcko in
1992 by Serb soldiers. At the time, she was four months pregnant, but while
being transferred to other locations and raped over and over again, she
miscarried. “Unfortunately, I was thinking of committing suicide. I was
looking for a reason not to live anymore,” she said, only recovering from
her ordeal after over 10 years of psychiatric treatment.
to help other women like her, Adila started an NGO in 2015 to support women who
had been the victims of sexual assault. Even now, she says that local women
visit her residence practically every day to open up about what happened to
them “for the first time.”
women) are basically suffering alone from the trauma that they had in the past.
That’s why I decided to open this association,” Adila explained. “The
main mission of the association is to empower women in different sectors, such
as economically, to provide psychological help, to provide social
For these
women, the “war” still has no end.
This is
part one of a four-part series.