Author: Daniel Toljaga
Throughout long, difficult, strenuous history of the Bosniak people, they were subjected to racist, state-imposed, and often violent denials of their identity, their uniqueness, their culture, and even their language: the Bosnian language; the very language that produced the first printed dictionary of its vocabulary nearly 200 years before the first printed dictionary of the Serbian language.
The denial, prejudice, supremacism: they are all seeds of evil, for they evolve, they expand, and if left unchecked, when they ripen, they flourish, overgrow, and unleash the violence of unimaginable proportions. They can turn seemingly good men — everyday husbands, fathers, neighbors – into psychopathic rapists, ferocious tormentors, maniacal monsters, and mass killers. It happened in Bosnia.
The human ‘willingness’ to use rape as an instrument of terror in war, for the sole purpose of inflicting irreparable, long term psychological and physical trauma to defenseless women and children, became evident in the bloodstained Serb-led campaign of ethnic cleansing in eastern Bosnia, between 1992 and 1993. A preliminary European Community report, published in January of 1993, estimated that 20,000 Bosniak women may have been raped by Serb forces in Bosnia. The report also added that there was strong evidence that many women and children were killed during or after sexual abuse. (AP, The News-Journal, p.8A, “Bosnia Rape Victim Waits to Give Unwanted Birth”, 8 January 1993.) In 2001, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia ruled that rape was indeed used by the Bosnian Serb armed forces as an ‘instrument of terror.’ (Trial Judgment in the case of Kunarac et al.)
While Serb soldiers participated in systematic rape of Bosniak women and girls, often mothers with their daughters, Bosniak men were sent to concentration camps or execution fields. Before they met their fate, Bosniak prisoners were savagely beaten and then forced into signing coerced statements that they had committed “crimes against Serbs.” The Serb authorities needed these “confessions” from tortured Bosniak prisoners so that they could falsify both the history and the nature of the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina (see, for example, the trial judgment of the International Criminal Tribunal in the case of Duško Tadić, par. 163-167.)
Women, War & Peace is the latest, and arguably the most important documentary film focusing on the systematic rape in war zones like Bosnia, to be published since the end of the Bosnian Genocide. As a survivor of war, words cannot express my gratitude toward everyone who was involved in the making of the “Women, War & Peace” DVD, especially toward the Academy-Award-winning actor, screenwriter and philanthropist Matt Damon. I urge everyone to pre-order this DVD as soon as possible. Hat tip to distinguished journalist Jessica Buchleitner for telling me about this project. Here is a preview:
Women, War & Peace is a bold new PBS mini-series challenging the conventional wisdom that war and peace are men’s domain. A co-production of THIRTEEN and Fork Films, Women, War & Peace places women at the center of an urgent dialogue about conflict and security and reframes our understanding of modern warfare.
Featuring narrators Matt Damon, Tilda Swinton, Geena Davis and Alfre Woodard, the series reveals how the post-Cold War proliferation of small arms has changed the landscape of war, with women becoming primary targets and suffering unprecedented casualties. Simultaneously, they are emerging as necessary partners in brokering lasting peace and as leaders in forging new international laws governing conflict.
When the Balkans exploded into war in the 1990s, reports that tens of thousands of women were being systematically raped as a tactic of ethnic cleansing captured the international spotlight.
I Came to Testify, narrated by Matt Damon, is the moving story of how a group of 16 women who had been imprisoned by Serb-led forces in the Bosnian town of Foča broke history’s great silence – and stepped forward to take the witness stand in an international court of law. Now, as Bosnia is once again in the headlines with the capture of Bosnian Serb wartime general Ratko Mladić, the women agree to speak for the first time since then, on condition that we keep their identities hidden for their protection. “Witness 99,” who was held at gunpoint for a month with dozens of other women in a sports hall in the center of town remembers: “We were treated like animals. But that was the goal: to kill a woman’s dignity.” Their remarkable courage resulted in a triumphant verdict that led to new international laws about sexual violence in war. Returning to Bosnia 16 years after the end of the conflict, I Came to Testify also explores the chasm between this seismic legal shift and the post-war justice experienced by most of Bosnia’s women war survivors.
The War We Are Living travels to Cauca, a mountainous region in Colombia’s pacific southwest, where two extraordinary Afro-Colombian women are fighting to hold onto their gold-rich lands. They are standing up for a generation of Colombians who have been terrorized and forcibly displaced as a deliberate strategy of war.
War Redefined, the capstone of Women, War & Peace, challenges the conventional wisdom that war and peace are men’s domain through incisive interviews with leading thinkers, Secretaries of State, and seasoned survivors of war and peace-making. Interviewees include Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee; Bosnian war crimes investigator Fadila Memisevic; and globalization expert Moises Naim.
Note: A good complement to Women, War & Peace is BBC’s The Land That Radovan Built with Allan Little. I helped BBC producers with contacts in Bosnia during the shooting of this documentary in September of 2008. I still keep two production copies of CDs and a Thank You note sent to me from BBC producer Kate Peterson. You may watch a short preview here.
Originally published on the Official Blog of Daniel Toljaga