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Karadzic trial cold comfort for rape victims

Despite appearance of alleged Balkans war criminal in Hague, women look to EU ahead of accession moves.

A Bosnian woman walks near a flower on the ground during the 13th anniversary of the shelling from neighboring hills by the Bosnian Serb forces in the capital Sarajevo, Aug. 28, 2008. (Danilo Krstanovic/Reuters)

BRUSSELS, Belgium — For some victims of the Bosnian War, seeing former Bosnian Serb commander Radovan Karadzic finally on trial on Monday — should he show up this time — may bring some closure.

Justice will at last catch up with a high-ranking perpetrator of unfathomable Balkans brutality in the early 1990s. But for many Bosnian women, the watershed event at the International Criminal Tribunal on the former Yugoslavia may barely register, much less offer relief.

For while Karadzic is charged with masterminding their torture, it’s not his face these women see in the nightmares that continue to torment them 15 years after the end of the war. They are haunted by the faces of their rapists — often neighbors or others known to them, along with complete strangers. And all too often, they see these men in real life, blithely going about their business, seemingly unscathed.

On top of everything, many of these women feel that their own government is continuing the abuse by ignoring their plight. Now, a group that includes a rape victim, a psychotherapist and an NGO director have decided to take their complaints to Brussels. Bosnia wants to become a candidate country for the European Union and these activists believe that EU officials therefore have leverage to put more pressure on the Bosnian government to address what they consider to have been violations of human rights.

Semka Agic was raped by a man she heard called “the Montenegrin” while being detained in a work camp during the war. Pursuing her case, Agic has been told by the female prosecutor that she’s “too busy with mass crimes” to concentrate on the rape of one woman.

Bosnian rape survivor Semka Agic.
Bosnian rape survivor Semka Agic.
(Teri Schultz/GlobalPost)

Indeed, the backlog of war-crimes prosecutions in Bosnia is said to number in the tens of thousands. “I’m so angry, but I’m not giving up,” Agic says, with a gleam of humor in her eye remarkable for what she’s been through — including the murder of her son. “I’ve promised myself to slap [the rapist] in the face. I want to make the court bring him there even if I have to drag him by his hair,” she said, gesturing to show how she’d haul in “the Montenegrin” if she knew where he was.

Agic says the support of family and therapy has made her strong enough to continue fighting, even though the system has so far failed her and countless others.


State authorities have done “very little” to help the victims, says Duska Andric-Ruzicic, the director of a women’s-rights NGO, Medica Zenica-Infoteka.

 Amnesty International agrees.

 Amnesty researchers spent most of 2009 documenting the situation faced by Bosnian victims of rape, whose numbers are thought to be somewhere between 20,000 and 50,000. The resulting report was damning of the Bosnian government.