These blog posts have required significant mental energy. Pouring through horrific research and photography covering these gruesome conflicts has been exhausting. However, to be part of the movement that gives a voice to the women who have been silenced throughout history has been inspiring.
But my findings are becoming redundant; the conflicts are all the same. Of course, they are unique and the people who lost their lives in them are unique. But what humans do to each other in all of these distinct cases frightningly the same.
Bosnia-Herzegovina 1992-1995: the fourth of the five wars that propelled Erin Shields to write If We Were Birds. The five chorus women of the play have their roots in these wars and throughout the play they tell their tales, which echo many wars throughout human history: where there is war, there is sexual violence. And where there is sexual violence, there is shame and silence.
The conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina involved Orthodox Christians Serbs, Catholic Croatians and ethnic Albanian Muslims, who had been historic rivals for years before this conflict erupted. Upon the death of Dictator Josip Tito, who reunified Yugoslavia after Nazi Germany partitioned it, Yugoslavia plunged into political and economic chaos. Yugoslavia’s new leader, Slobodan Milosevic used nationalism and religious hatred to gain power and maintain control of Yugoslavian territory. He inflamed long-standing tensions between Serbs and Muslims in Kosovo, which caused political unrest and ultimately allowed Milosevic to maintain claim over the area and establish power.
In 1991, Slovenia and Croatia claimed independence from Yugoslavia. Milosevic sparked old resentment between ethnicities to attempt to regain control of the land. Slovenia provided tougher resistance than expected, and Milosevic lost interest and turned to Croatia where Orthodox Christian Serbs made up 12% of the population. Christian Serbs resented the Croat government who enacted discriminatory laws against them. Tension between the two ethnic groups in Croatia was stiff and in 1991, Milosevic attacked Croatian Catholics to protect the oppressed Serbian minority. This led to 86 days of fighting followed by a mass execution of Croatians.
A year later in1992, Bosnia claimed independence. To regain control of Bosnia, Milosevic used the same tactic to stir up Serbian animosity against majority Bosnian Muslims, and proceeded to attack Sarajevo. “Sarajevo soon became known as the city where Serb snipers continually shot down helpless civilians in the streets, including eventually 3,500 children” (Amnesty International). Serbian forces gained ground and soon were rounding up local Muslims in make-shift camps reminiscent of Nazi concentration camps. Rape was used as a tool for ethnic cleansing – women were forced to carry these offspring to term: the goal was to repopulate entire towns. Young girls and women of Muslim families were also threatened and terrorized with rape in order to force them to desert their land.
The initial indifference on the part of the international community allowed Serbian forces to execute this genocide with little resistance. Finally, images of a blasted Bosnian market place circulated through international media and brought about an intervention against the Serbs. The United States imposed a cease-fire through NATO and tried to unify Bosnian Muslims and Croatian Catholics against Serbian forces. Despite these actions, attacks even in designated ‘safe havens’ and against U.N. Peacekeepers were rampant. What followed was a series of inflammatory cause and effect events. Again through NATO, the U.S. sent air strikes against Serbian forces: in response, Serbian forces took hundreds of peacekeepers hostage and used them as human shields. At one particular safe haven, Srebrenica, Serbian forces systemically slaughtered 8,000 men and boys. This was the worst mass murder in Europe since WWII, and coupled with this slaughter was the mass rape of thousands of Muslim females. The Srebrenica conflict fully engaged international attention.
The tables began to turn when a U.S. bombing campaign targeted Serbian artillery positions throughout Bosnia and Muslims received arms shipments enabling them to defend themselves. Milosevic was now ready to talk peace. On November 1st 1995, after three years of horrific bloodshed, peace negotiations began and, after three weeks, a peace accord was declared. It was concluded that Bosnia would be separated into the Bosnian Serb Republic and the Muslim Croat Federation. Democratic elections would take place and war criminals would be handed over for prosecution.
The rampant sexual violence suffered by women in Bosnia-Herzegovina finally led to rape being categorized as a war crime by international law. Twenty years later, however, there is still a need for justice and reparation. This conflict saw thousands of women become victims of systematic and repeated rape, sexual slavery, forced pregnancy for ethnic cleansing purposes, yet, only 40 to 60 perpetrators have been charged for their actions.
“The silence surrounding the war-time rape of women in the Republic of Srpska, an internationally recognized crime under international law, is deafening” (Amnesty International).
“The History Place – Genocide in the 20th Century: Bosnia-Herzegovina 1992-95.” The History Place – Genocide in the 20th Century: Bosnia-Herzegovina 1992-95. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Sept. 2013.
“Bosnia and Herzegovina | Amnesty International.” Bosnia and Herzegovina | Amnesty International. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Sept. 2013.