My Body: A War Zone

In the wake of the conflict, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia declared the use of ‘systematic rape’ and ‘sexual enslavement’ as a crime against humanity. The decision has come to represent a significant step for women’s human rights and in defining the field of international humanitarian law. In response, the UN’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict praised the women that testified within the landmark case for ‘breaking what is called history’s greatest silence’.
Bosnia is a country that has long borne witness to such crime. The United Nations estimates that between 20,000 and 50,000 women were raped in the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Fewer that 1,000 woman currently receive help from the government as victims of wartime rape. Many of the perpetrators of these crimes have never been prosecuted.
However, the cessation of hostilities did little to ease victims’ suffering. To this day, publicly identifying oneself as either a victim or survivor of sexual violence continues to carry such a high social stigma that admission to can cause family abandonment, isolation, and economic and social marginalization. As such, many women are too afraid to come forward and seek professional support, forcing them to endure alone the effects of the crimes perpetrated against them.
Working with the Post Conflict Research Center (PCRC) on stories and portraits of survivors of sexual violence from Bosnia and Herzegovina is one way to bring worldwide attention to the issues that Bosnian women have faced over the past two decades, and, for now at least, continue to face on a daily basis. Whilst in the long-term it is hoped that the project will begin to inspire other women to come forward, either by forming networks or sharing their stories, to coalesce around this issue and break the silence and stigma together – regardless of their ethnic background.

H.B.

"10 soldiers came into my home who had previously burned down my grandparents’ house while they were inside with my 3-year-old sister. They ordered that I go with them, and they took me to my high school. I wasn’t even 18 years old, and I had never been intimate with a man until that time. That night, they took me into the basement of the school and threw me to the floor. I couldn’t see their faces. I prayed and begged for them to stop, but nothing helped. I lost consciousness. I woke up in a classroom and felt nothing but emptiness inside. I was held in that school for a month and a half. I thought I would never be free again. They continued to come and take advantage of me during the night. When I was released and reunited with my family, I was told that they had also killed my father and brother.”
 

O.D.

“I am a doctor by profession and my mission has always been to help other people. I never believed that people could do something like this to each other. I was in shock that the war started: I didn’t believe that history would repeat itself. The worst thing imaginable happened. In May 1992, soldiers came and took me from my job to the camp where I had to survive 105 days of terror and torture. During each brutal rape, my soul left my body. I went somewhere else. I thought, ‘You can do whatever you want with my body, but you can never have my soul.’ To this day, those who committed such evil against me are walking free and I cannot return to my home.”

V.S.

“At that time, I was 35 years old. I lived a beautiful life with my husband and two children. My husband and I had an enormous amount of love and respect for one another. We especially liked to travel together. It was a wonderful life, until the war started. ’92 caught me by surprise. It was such an evil time. People turned into wild animals. One night, armed men in military uniforms and masks broke into our apartment. They took my husband. My children were crying and I was praying that they wouldn’t harm us; that they wouldn’t touch me. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen that way. It was a difficult time because these were people I knew: my “so-called” neighbors. They would come at night, pounding on doors, entering and leaving as they pleased. My best years were turned into a living hell.”