Bosnian Heroine Helped Criminalize Wartime Rape

by Amy Zimmerman

Nusreta Sivac, one kick ass lady

Here’s a not-so-fun fact: rape and crimes of sexual violence were not tried as international war crimes until 1995. In honor of International Women’s Day, The Associated Press published a story today on Nusreta Sivac, a Muslim Bosniak woman whose testimony and tireless work pushed the International Tribunal for War Crimes in Former Yugoslavia to prosecute rape as a war crime. Like many other Muslim Bosniaks and Catholic Croats, Sivac was apprehended by Bosnian Croats during the 1992-1995 Yugoslavian conflict and put in a concentration camp. The Associated Press reports, “During the long days of forced labor in the camp’s restaurant, the women listened to tortured prisoners screaming, calling for help and begging for mercy with voices that would become weaker until they went silent. Then the guards would force the women to clean the interrogation rooms, strewn with bloody pliers and batons. At night, guards would come to take the women away one by one — to rape.”

The Peace Palace at The Hague

For centuries, rape and sexual violence were considered unfortunate byproducts of war and international conflict. But Sivac refused to let her torturers go unpunished. Along with a pre-war colleague and fellow victim, Jadranka Cigelj, Sivac collected testimonies from hundreds of women who were raped during the war. Then, Sivac and Cigelj presented their work to the International Tribunal at The Hague. A year later, the Tribunal convicted eight Bosnian Men on charges of sexual assault. The United Nations cites this indictment as a major “turning point” in the recognition of rape as a war crime. Now, thanks to the work of Sivac and hundreds of other women, thirty people have been convicted of rape at the International Tribunal, and another thirty cases are currently ongoing. For a horrible story, this one actually has a pretty good ending: Sivac “personally helped put the man who raped her repeatedly during her two months in captivity behind bars.” Happy International Women’s Day! 


Via The Associated Press, Images via Wikipedia and The Associated Press

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