Author of original text in Croatian: Vedrana Milas, Objektiv, 23 April 2014
Translated into English: Ina Vukic
In late March 2014, the International conference “Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict – A Stronger Role of Regional Security Forces on Peace Support Operations” was held in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. It was organised by the Ministry of Defense of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) with support from the Embassies of the United Kingdom and the Kingdom of Norway. The establishment of a centre for education of preventing sexual violence in armed conflicts was announced at the conference and a new model of training soldiers and the police from the region who will be sent on peace missions was also presented.
This is a part of the Global campaign against sexual violence in war initiated in May 2012 by William Hague, chief of British diplomatic services and Angelina Jolie, actress and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador. The initiative for the campaign arose from the movie “In the Land of Blood and Honey”, which talks about the rapes in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina (during 1990’s war). Shocked by the small number of convictions for rape given the scale of the crime, British Foreign Secretary Hague had on 1st April stated for BBC: “I believe that our plan is to see that new international standards for investigation and prosecution of perpetrators of war crime of rape are brought about and help not only in the prevention of such crimes but also help the judicature with more efficient processing of the already committed crimes.” (Furthermore, Hague stated for BBC: “…I think we can do something, if we succeed and create the right international standards of investigation and prosecution so that people really are punished that justice is done when at least some of these crimes are committed …” ).
The processing of war crimes of rape is a key problem in Croatia, in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in other countries of the world who have been through wars and this initiative should contribute to a more efficient processing of war crimes of rape. Because of the inefficient judicature many victims of rape in Croatia, especially in the city of Vukovar, are forced to watch their rapists move freely, which has convicted the victims to a lifelong trauma. How large the problem is can be evidenced from the Assistant Secretary General for Public Diplomacy at NATO Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic’s statement after the completion of the above conference in Sarajevo: “I am deeply ashamed for the fact that victims of violence on Croatian streets are forced to cross to the other side of the street in order to avoid encounter with their rapist”.
In the meantime, on 24th September 2013, at the sitting of the UN General Assembly a Declaration to End Sexual Violence in Conflict was made and a new international protocol on investigation and documenting of sexual violence in armed conflicts was completed and which will be presented at the “Global Summit To End Sexual Violence In Conflict” in June of this year in London by William Hague.
The road to the first codes against rape in war has been long and torturous, from the 19th century American Civil War (The Leiber Code) through Geneva Convention 1949, Nuremberg trials and Military courts in Japan, which saw the word rape mentioned for the first time in a judgment, although only in the category of crimes against humanity. It was only at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and for Rwanda (ICTR) that rape in conflict had been defined as war crime. The turning point is found in the ICTR Akayesu case where it was said that rape or sexual violence can be treated as genocide, if it is proved that the intention was to physically or psychologically destroy a certain group of people of a part of that group of people. The ICTY judgment in the case of Furundzija from 1998 represents a novum (a new thing) in the international court practice because that was the first judgment passed exclusively for the war crime of rape.
But, what was Croatian Minister for Foreign Affairs and European Affairs, Vesna Pusic doing in Sarajevo? The same woman who two years ago had no time for the raped women of Vukovar but instead invited them to march at the head of Split Gay Pride parade with the following words: “I would, however, expect these women, as victims of violence, to show solidarity with all other victims or potential victims of violence and I expect for them to be in the front rows at Split’s Pride!” Yes, Vesna Pusic had in the year of 2012 sent a message to the victims of war crime of rape that the war crime is identical to the potential dangers for the members of a different sexual orientation!
The Croatian public was flabbergasted; numerous Homeland War associations, public personalities and ordinary citizens asked for Minister Pusic to step aside, but their voice was hardly heard, press silence covered up this most embarrassing gaff by a Minister since the day of Croatian independence. All these women wanted to ask Minister Pusic was to work on the internationalization of the problem of raped women, to use her bilateral meetings with her colleagues from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, the countries in which members of the former Yugoslav Peoples Army and Serb paramilitary formations live or are hiding, and whose victims they themselves were. What mistakes did these women make, then? Perhaps in the timing because Serbia had in the same year received the status of EU candidate. Did Mrs Pusic cold-bloodedly assess that the moment for receiving the victims of rape was not convenient (?) – we will never know for sure.
This was not the first time that Minister Vesna Pusic was instrumental to war crime of rape: in 2006, in the Croatian parliament she accused the then president of the Constitutional court, Vice Vukojevic, for the raping of a Muslim woman in a camp in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Even though she found out about that “case” back in the late 1990’s when the former President, Stjepan Mesic, pulled a book out of somewhere, authored by the alleged victim, Pusic suddenly became interested in the case only in 2006, immediately after Judge Vukojevic’s testimony at a German court in the case of Krunoslav Prates for the murder of the Croatian emigrant Stjepan Djurekovic. After the 2011 investigation by the Swedish, American and Bosnian authorities confirmed that the woman does not exist, that the book was clearly a product of the Bosnian secret service AID, Pusic went all quiet. She had not even apologised for the five-year hell the Vukojevic family went through. While the manipulation with the crime of rape has in this case had the aim of compromising the credibility of Judge Vukojevic as a witness, the invitation to the women victims of rape to place themselves at the front of the Gay parade had its function in building her own popularity in the EU bodies and in collecting political points with the gay population. Does one really need to explain that not a single politician who has even a little of political intelligence – and a seed of humanity – would ever enter into manipulation with victims of any crime, and especially not with crime of rape.
Many praiseworthy initiatives would find it difficult to achieve success were it not for the efforts and promotion by public personalities from political and arts circles, because these people are the ones who ensure global visibility of projects and eventually – the finances. Sadly, the importance of living the values one preaches is sometimes lost in people involved with a certain project, i.e., that their moral integrity is at least – solid. Of course, this is especially important for campaigns associated with human rights.
The initiator of this project, Foreign Secretary William Hague, is a man of a flawless political biography and some initiatives such as his book about the life of the philanthropist William Wilberforce (the leader of the movement to abolish slavery in most countries of the British Empire in the 19th century who needs to be thanked for the Laws passed to abolish slavery) and his 2010 – when he was appointed a Secretary in David Cameron’s government – statement in which he said that he would seriously engage himself with the area of human rights – speak enough of his integrity.
The nomination of Angelina Jolie as UNHCR special envoy is a good choice because besides being a well-liked actress she has shown a characteristic of humanity by adopting several children from different countries. But, a person like Vesna Pusic, who has profoundly compromised herself on the issue of war crime of rape, does not represent a good choice – for sure! Is the British Foreign Secretary Hague aware of the fact that by nominating Vesna Pusic as one of the global promoters of the project the whole project is compromised? His duty as an initiator is to ensure that the people involved with the project are persons in whom the victims of war crime of rape must have trust. Minister Vesna Pusic is not that person – for sure!
“It is a terrible realisation that we will not be able to punish some criminals because many who had suffered rape – especially men – do not want to speak, do not want to go through the trauma of court testimony,” said Marija Sliskovic, the president of the Croatian “Women in Homeland War Association”, for Objektiv. “That is why I think that the initiative started by the British Foreign Secretary Hague is something truly very important and big. We, in Croatia, have already contributed to this initiative by uncovering most of the criminals through our collection and published testimonies. All those who engage with the issue of rape as war crime must not stop until the very last accessible criminal is not processed. We need to look up to the Jews who, even though decades have passed since the Holocaust, are not stopping until the last living criminal against Jews is found. They know best what true suffering is.”