Croatia: End Sexual Violence In Conflict – Get Minister Vesna Pusic Out Of Project

 

William Hague and Angelina Jolie in Srebrenica, March 2014

William Hague and Angelina Jolie in Srebrenica, March 2014

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.”

Croatia: Howling For Rape War Crimes Justice

Marija Sliskovic  Photo: Goran Stanzl/Pixsell Film "Sunny" about Croatian rape victims from days of Serb aggression against Croatia

Marija Sliskovic Photo: Goran Stanzl/Pixsell
Film “Sunny” about Croatian rape victims from
days of Serb aggression against Croatia

Croatian politics, authorities and institutions (including media) have failed miserably at addressing the war crimes of rape perpetrated by Serbs against Croatian (and non-Serb women) during their war of aggression against Croatia. The same could be said for Bosnia and Herzegovina. There has been no significant will to prosecute rapists, war criminals – the political and judiciary neglect of these awful, beastly crimes against Croatian people – women, mothers – has resulted in the fact that still, after more than 20 years the rape victims do not receive their deserved attention and respect among the public.

One can only conclude from this that the rape victims of Croatia’s Homeland War have remained under the radar of social sensitivity and humanity.

Croatian women, rape victims from Serb concentration camps in Croatia have not received that which every humane society owes to its sufferers: pursuit of justice and punishment of perpetrators, support and protection.  A humane society must build into its social milieu a consistent and persistent policy and procedures to address such beastly crimes and neither Croatian nor Bosnia and Herzegovinian authorities have done that. The only explanation for such appalling approach towards these war crimes could perhaps be found in the political madness and pressure towards ethnic reconciliation (the return to a semblance of the former brotherhood and unity, which failed miserably after decades of its forceful nurturing by Communist Yugoslavia) at the cost of human dignity and justice.  In this mosaic of political machinations beastly rape of women becomes, it seems, a tolerated crime; a crime that can be swept under the carpet and victims of rape are faced to having to live side by side, in same towns, with war criminals.

If we scan over democratic societies of the western world we see that the crime of rape is not tolerated. Indeed, it’s not tolerated in the young democracy such as Croatia. So why tolerate the rapes perpetrated during the Homeland War?! One may come across many a condemning word against these crimes but the condemnation overwhelmingly stops at that. Most perpetrators of these crimes have not been prosecuted and the reason for that is that there is no will or determination from the authorities to pursue these criminals. Just awful!

As things go in modern times media has a powerful role in attracting attention to issues and the spinoff of that attention can often result in actions undertaken to correct the wrongs.

Actress Angelina Jolie had certainly made a lot of right noise across the world about rape during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina with her 2011 movie “In the land of blood and honey”.

Last month, the filming of the film “Sunny” has commenced at locations in Croatia (Vukovar, Sisak and Petrinja). It’s a co-production by Croatian “Women in Homeland War” association and the U.S./Texas iFilms. The making of this film is partly supported by Croatian ministry of Veterans’ affairs, City of Zagreb and ifilms-Texas. The film addresses the suffering of Croatian people, particularly the women, at the hands of Serb aggression against Croatia during the early 1990’s.

The aggression, devastation and war crimes were perpetrated by the regular Belgrade based Yugoslav Army, various Serb extreme militant formations (Chetniks) as well as by Serbs who lived in Croatia.  This film will clearly show the extent of Serb crimes over the helpless Croatian civilian population and present testimonies of living witnesses about the inhumane conditions of captivity, torture, rape and killing. The dramatized part of the film will be filmed in Texas, USA and the completion of filming is expected by the end of this year.

The aim of this film is to show the world the extent of Serb crimes against Croatian people that have not yet been prosecuted, spark public debates throughout the world on this issue, spark international human rights organisations into debate and into delivering adequate sanctions against Republic of Serbia and its citizens who had participated in the perpetration of these crimes, compensate the victims and offer them and their families adequate assistance towards their re-integration into normal life.

The editor of the book “Sunny”, Marija Sliskovic (President of Women in Homeland War Association, Croatia), on which the film is based, has for years been collecting rape victim statements and testimonies about the horrors of the war.

In the meanwhile, the rapes perpetrated by Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the war are receiving a second major revelation through performing arts. This time it’s not Angelina Jolie that’s doing it, it’s Yasmine Beverly Rana, an American writer, drama therapist and pedagogue who is presenting her drama piece “The Fallen” at the “T. Schreiber” theatre in New York – reports Vecernji List journalist Jadranka Juresko-Kero.

Juresko-Kero reports that Rana was surprised to hear that Croatian women, victims of rapes, are still fighting for their rights and punishment of perpetrators via “Women in Homeland War Association”.  Rana was reportedly especially shocked by the information that at least 240 children in Croatia were born as products of the rapes – most mothers of these children came from Vukovar.

Wounds from the past will not heal until such time when they are brought into “the light of day”, said Rana. She confirmed her belief that the truth heals everything and that all the children born from war rapes deserve to know how profoundly their mothers had suffered.

The other side of that suffering is love, said Rana. The women carried the children in their bodies and gave them birth. The love for the child had suppressed the hate towards the criminals, but that in no way means that the rapists should go unpunished.

Peace and reconciliation require a firm and consistent process to ascertain the truth, something which is particularly dramatic when rapes are used as a tool of war or in post-conflict phases against women as well as children and men.

Remembering is a very painful effort when it comes to victims of war crimes. And where rapes are concerned not all the victims are able to remember into testimonies and statements the horrors suffered. It is for that reason that societies and communities must make efforts in bringing the truth about these crimes to light and justice. For, peace and reconciliation can only return in the truth is told and the criminals dealt with – decisively, without mercy. I trust that the film “Sunny” will leave no stone of these horrid crimes unturned and that the world will stand still, take in the horror these Croatian women have had to endure and – finally help turn winds of justice against the rape war criminals. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

Serbs serve more “Blood” than “Honey” for Angelina Jolie’s film promotion

Angelina Jolie Photo: Slobodna Dalmacija

According to the Guardian’s article Angelina Jolie’s directorial debut “In the Land of Blood and Honey was intended to remind the world of the horrors of the Bosnian war which began 20 years ago, and trigger a debate among Bosnians over what happened and why. But it has succeeded most in exposing the depth of the rifts in a country that many fear is moving away from reconciliation and drifting once more towards dangerous instability. Since the film opened, with a peace award at the Berlin film festival on Monday (13 February 2012) and a premiere before 5,000 people in Sarajevo on Tuesday night, Jolie and several Serbian members of the cast have received threats.
In the Land of Blood and Honey is a stark, brutal and often shocking portrayal of the war. It shows summary executions and the systematic rape of Muslim and Croat women by Serbian officers at one of the many camps set up around the country.
An estimated 100,000 people were killed in the war, 8,000 Muslim men and boys murdered at Srebrenica in 1995, which the Hague tribunal has declared an act of genocide.
The current Bosnian Serb leadership rejects the findings of the tribunal and other international investigations, and Jolie’s film is not being shown in the Republika Srpska, the Serbian entity which makes up more than half of Bosnia.”
Republika Srpska (Serbian Republic) arose from within the borders of the former Yugoslav state of Bosnia and Herzegovina and it’s “birth” is soaked in genocidal blood and horrors of the 1990’s wars when Croatian and Bosnian Serbs and the Serb-led Yugoslav Army mounted terrible aggression in order to stop the secession of Croatia and Bosnia from communist Yugoslavia. It is, therefore, no surprise that Bosnian Serbs have hostile attitudes towards Jolie’s movie. One can safely conclude that Serbs don’t want the world to know or imagine more about their horrors.
Critics, including renowned Serbian film director Emir Kusturica, “alleged that Jolie unfairly had depicted ethnic Serbs as sole aggressors in the war and associated ethnic-cleansing campaigns. Kusturica told Serbian daily Blic that Jolie’s new film was a work of Hollywood propaganda.”
Does it really matter whether it’s propaganda or not?

In all its history, movie making has been about bringing to the world portrayals of factual as well as fictional events. Jolie has brought a factual story of horror told by fictional characters. There’s no propaganda in that. But even if it were propaganda then it’s high time for more of it because justice has not yet been served to all the innocent victims, and especially not to rape victims in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

So, I say: “good on you, Angelina! Now make a movie on the thousands upon thousands of rape victims in Croatia because Croatian women who were raped by the Serbs during the 1990’s war still await their justice. But worse than that, they are forced to live in the same community as their rapists (e.g. in Vukovar) because the international community, particularly the European Union, has been pushing for the return to Croatia of Serbs who fled the country in 1995 without insisting on justice and conditions that Serbs need to meet if they wish to rehabilitate themselves back into the country which they so brutally ravaged.
Attending the Croatian premiere of the movie in Zagreb, Croatia, Friday February 17, Jolie said: “I hope that my film will throw a light upon this region, that people will come and travel here, be excited by your beautiful country and artists that inspire”. When, on the red carpet, asked why she made the movie she replied: “It was the bloodiest conflict since WWII, and I felt that I did not know anything about it, like many people in other countries. People here have suffered enormous agonies and are still suffering through much. International community needs to continue helping them.”

Let’s hope that Jolie’s movie will trigger more investigations and prosecution of all rapists from the war in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. While Serb rapists from Bosnia have maintained a relatively safe haven from prosecution within the Serbian Republic and Serbia, in Croatia most roam freely because the international community insists on their return to Croatia. While the ICTY in the Hague has included rape as a war crime, only the individuals who are before it get to answer for it. The majority of the rapists are still at large and much more needs to be done for justice to be served. Every bit helps and Jolie’s film may well trigger some blood into a boiling point that will see an increased number of criminal investigations and criminal trials for rape, wherever the rapists may be – even in “Western” countries where many live normal lives as refugees from former Yugoslavia. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A. Ps. (Syd)

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