Rape Is an International War Crime Thanks to This Bosnian Woman
There were days when she prayed for a bullet to end her suffering. When she thought she was dying of a heart attack, she whispered “Thank you God.”
Nusreta Sivac vowed to memorize the names and faces of the guards that repeatedly raped her and 36 other women at a Bosnia concentration camp in the early ’90s so that one day they would pay for their crimes.
One problem: rape wasn’t actually considered an international war crime until 1995, after Sivac and her colleagues spent years gathering testimony from women across Bosnia that convinced the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague to take sexual assault more seriously.
From the AP:
For centuries, rape was considered a byproduct of wars - collateral damage suffered by women, horrors often overshadowed by massacres. Even though the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 prohibited wartime rape, no court ever raised charges until Sivac and Cigelj presented their overwhelming evidence.
The effort finally paid off in June 1995 when the two traveled to The Hague to take part in preparations for the first indictment by the Yugoslav war crimes court.
Their collected evidence exposed the magnitude of rape which courts could no longer ignore. According to the United Nations, it was a major “turning point” in recognizing rape as a war crime.
A year later, the tribunal indicted eight Bosnian Serb men based on Sivac’s work. It was the first time ever that an international tribunal charged someone solely for crimes of sexual violence.
NUSRETA SIVAC’s VOICE (pdf)
“My name is Nusreta Sivac and I come from Prijedor, a city in northwest part
of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Before I share my very difficult experience in the
concentration camp in Omarska, I would like to say that I am very happy to see that the tradition of Voices continues. I am also pleased to see some of the participants at the Voices from South Africa in 2001. For me it is very important that we have been given another opportunity to speak and that our voices are heard again.
In April 1992 the Bosnian Serbs took forcibly power in Prijedor, that with the
help of police, the former Yugoslav army (who at that time was composed of only
Serbs) and the paramilitary forces from Serbia. In Prijedor the majority population
was of Bosnian Bosniaks (Muslims), then Serbs (Ortodox Christians), Croats
(Catholics) and other minority communities. Soon after Serbs took power, the areas populated by Muslims and Croats were started to be granated, houses were
plundered, burned and then completely destroyed. ‘Ciscenje’ or ‘Cleaning’ was the terminology Serbs used for ethnic cleansing of Muslims and Croats. All the Muslim and Croat population in those areas was taken to the existing concentration camps. Later on men and women were divided, men would remain in the concentration camps and majority of women and children were later gathered in tracks and taken close to the borders of the Federation from where they sought protection of the Bosnian army.
In the city of Prijedor at that time, freedom of movement was strictly limited.
Muslims and Croats had to wear white bands around their arms and had to have
white flags on the windows of their apartments. Soon after even they were take to
the concentration camps. That were created in Prijedor; Omarska, Keraterm and
One of the first days afterthat Serbs took the powerin PrijedorI went to work.
I was 40 years old and worked as a judge in the Municipality Court. When I came a group of Serb solders were waiting for me with a list of names in their hands. They asked me for my name and then informed me that I will no longer work there. In that moment I thought that was the worst thing that could ever happen to me and later I realized that was only introduction to the worst thing that could ever happen to a human being.