From the July-August 2015 issue of News & Letters
by Terry Moon
Twenty years ago in July 1995, over 8,000 mostly men and boys were massacred in Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Supposedly protecting a “safe area,” the 400-strong UN “peacekeepers” did nothing while thousands were murdered, almost in front of their eyes.
NAMING RAPE A CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY
At the same time, over 30,000 Bosniak women, children and the old were forced from their homes. During the three years of war, thousands of Bosnian women were brutally raped, many murdered, many sexually tortured, all as a deliberate tactic of war to target and savage civilians and non-combatants; to destroy a people determined to live a multi-ethnic existence. The intent was genocide. It was the experience of these women, backed up by a massive outcry, that forced the UN to name rape in war, for the first time, as both torture and a crime against humanity.
News & Letters wrote shortly before the massacre in an Editorial (“Rwanda, Bosnia and genocide in the 1990s,” April 1995 News & Letters, page 10):
“Facing, drawing the correct lessons from, and then acting against genocide in Rwanda and Bosnia is not a separate question from combating racism and fascism at home—it is the same question…We need to support and learn from the emancipatory, multi-ethnic forces in Bosnia and Rwanda which, under tremendous pressure to mimic their enemies’ ethnic chauvinism, have instead attempted to remain true to the ideal of a non-racist society.”
That passion to “remain true to the ideal of a non-racist society” is being realized in a unique project: the convening in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on May 7 of the Women’s Court on war crimes against women during the war in the 1990s.
NOW, FINALLY, A WOMEN’S COURT
The very way they have organized the Court over five years, involving women from the entire region, shows that passion. Women came together from all corners of the former Yugoslavia to demand justice for the crimes committed against them during the wars and the suffering that followed. Women participating are from regions that were involved in the multi-sided war: Bosnia and Herzegovina, including Srebrenica, Croatia, Kosova, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and more.
As Marieme Helie Lucas, a founder of Women Living Under Muslim Laws, writes:
“This [convening of the Women’s Court], in and of itself, is a huge achievement, at a time when Europe is plagued with the rise of nationalisms, of extreme right-wing forces that divide people along ethnic and religious lines; at a time when attempts are made to homogenize nations and to exclude minorities and diversity; at a time when even citizens of one country are further separated by the construction of antagonistic ‘communities.’…The fact that women came together from all the nations of ex-Yugoslavia is not just a powerful show of solidarity across boundaries. It is also a political stand, defying the destructive, extreme rightwing forces at work in the region and in the whole of Europe.”
Women in Black-Belgrade (WiB-B), Serbia, did a tremendous amount of work to bring the Women’s Court into being. It was WiB-B who, in the midst of that war, stood on the street corners in Belgrade and condemned the deadly aggression of their own government. They were spat on, screamed at, threatened with death and physically attacked.
They persisted then and kept persisting for 20 years to make sure that the world does not forget and that the criminals are named. They helped make it possible for women who suffered unimaginable loss and atrocities, to make it imaginable, to name and speak the reality of inhumanity and to articulate what must be done and how to move forward.
The process of bringing the Women’s Court into being changed women’s lives. The Women’s Court is the opportunity for women from the region to finally demand justice and to tell not only what happened to them in their own words, but also what needs to happen for them to receive justice and peace. While the Women’s Court has no power in the bourgeois sense, as Marieme Lucas explains, “it will name the crimes and the perpetrators, it will denounce the links between the different forms of violence that women suffer till today in the former Yugoslavia as a consequence of the wars, it will demand justice and, relying on ‘the power of international women’s solidarity,’ commit to monitoring the responses from concerned authorities.”
The power of the Women’s Court is also revealed by the women who testified: “We are women who fight for justice. I will always live in solidarity with these women. Together we can laugh and cry. I only wish that this group of women would rule the world.”
3 thoughts on “Woman as Reason: Twenty years after Srebrenica: A Women’s Court demands justice”
Sorry, what happened to the women? If I recall correctly, like in most if not all conflict areas, men and boys in Srebrenica were intentionally targeted, precisely because of their gender.People were literally gunned down, bayoneted or otherwise murdered and thrown into ditches because they happened to have a penis between their legs, whilst those who did not possess such a stigma were largely free from such a fate. I’m not disparaging what the women related/married to these males went through nor their laudable efforts to obtain recognition for what happened here, but this article smacks of various other liberal pieces that make the bogus claim that somehow women are the primary victims of war, when in reality, in terms of casualty figures alone, that simply is not the case. And most certainly not in regards to the deliberate gender-specific slaughter carried out at Srebrenica.
The article takes up an extraordinary event, the Women’s Court, that took 20 years to bring into being and whose very process showed that the fascists who tried to destroy the unity of a multiethnic society failed. The article makes no claim, nor would I want to, that “women are the primary victims of war.” Civilians are the primary victims of war.
We are not trying to counterpose the rapes of women and girls to the murder of men and boys; in fact, the article begins with the slaughter of thousands of men and boys in Srebrenica. It is true that men and boys are singled out for murder; it is true that women are singled out for rape and also singled out for rape and then murder; it is also true that bombs make no such distinction, and the genocidal Serb nationalist forces in Bosnia/Herzegovina were purposefully bombing civilians—men, women, children.
The war in the Balkans was a genocidal war, a war of “ethnic cleansing,” the first time that expression was used. Civilians were targeted not alone for their ethnicity, but because of their determination to live in a multiethnic society. The writer asks, “what happened to the women?” Because it was a war of annihilation against a civilian population, what happened to women and girls was unprecedented. Women and girls were not only considered “spoils of war.” The rape of women and girls in Bosnia/Herzegovina was a deliberate tactic, that is, men were ordered to rape and murder women and to do so in the most brutal and public way imaginable. The purpose was to destroy each individual family and an entire culture and way of life. Until the rapes in Congo, what was done to women and girls in the war against Bosnia/Herzegovina had not been seen before.
It is necessary to make a category of both the oppression and the revolt of women—in activity and in thought—if we are to uproot this sexist, racist, militaristic, capitalist society.
I may have been at the precise locations of mass executions and torture. If Google maps was around in the early 90’s then I could have shared all those locations with the public by clicking a few buttons. If you saw what I saw…you would think we are not in a planet inhabited by humans. I found a small derelict building. No windows but just one front main door. Inside were scattered male penises mostly of men and most of these were neatly piled into steel trays. From the horror that unfolded there must have been easily over 70 to a tray and there were a lot of trays. The flesh looked relatively fresh and I decided to move away in a haste and while doing so stumbled over a corpse of a woman lying on the road with her womb torn open and her body burnt beyond recognition.