Bos­nia’s wartime ‘mis­tresses of life and death’

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

She may once have been known as “the mis­tress of life and death”, but in the court try­ing her for war crimes Azra Ba­sic hardly stands out. Ba­sic is among around a dozen women charged or con­victed of crimes com­mit­ted dur­ing Bos­nia’s in­ter-eth­nic war in the 1990s which claimed nearly 100,000 lives.

Com­pared to the sev­eral hun­dred men con­victed by lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional courts for crimes com­mit­ted dur­ing the 1992-1995 war, the num­ber of women is not many. But sev­eral ex-pris­on­ers have al­ready tes­ti­fied in court to Ba­sic’s bru­tal tor­ture of de­tainees since the trial opened in Fe­bru­ary. One wit­ness at Ba­sic’s trial re­called in tes­ti­mony Fri­day the glim­mer of hope he felt on April 26, 1992.

Du­san Nedic said he saw a woman called Azra en­ter a de­ten­tion fa­cil­ity in the north­ern town of Der­venta, where he was be­ing held by eth­nic Croats. She spoke with other de­tainees, he re­called. “For me it was a glim­mer of hope,” said Nedic. “I told my­self that a ‘woman should not be ag­gres­sive as men.’” But he was wrong. “She started to beat the de­tainees, she was jump­ing on them while they were on the floor,” the 55-year-old shoe fac­tory worker said.

Look­ing at her in court, it is dif­fi­cult to link Ba­sic with the bru­tal vi­o­lence, in­clud­ing one mur­der, of which she is ac­cused. A short, silent, be­spec­ta­cled woman, she avoids eye con­tact when in court. When in 2011 the author­i­ties fi­nally caught up with her af­ter the war, she was work­ing in a food fac­tory in the United States. Ba­sic has pleaded not guilty to war crimes against civil­ians and pris­on­ers of war at the start of her trial, in­clud­ing a charge that she killed a pris­oner. “This per­son was not me,” she told the court on Fri­day, her voice trem­bling. “I swear be­fore God and that’s all,” she added, as Slav­isa Djuras, the son of Blagoje Djuras, the man she al­legedly killed, looked on.

‘Bet­ter’ than men

Bil­jana Plavsic, now aged 86, re­mains the most fa­mous woman war crim­i­nal from the for­mer Yu­goslavia. The for­mer Bos­nian Serb vice-pres­i­dent Bil­jana Plavsic is also the only one tried be­fore the UN war crimes court in The Hague. She was sen­tenced to 11 years in jail in 2003 af­ter plead­ing guilty to crimes against hu­man­ity for her lead­ing role in a cam­paign of per­se­cu­tion against Croats and Mus­lims dur­ing Bos­nia’s war.

“Women are just as ca­pa­ble of com­mit­ting crimes,” prom­i­nent Croa­t­ian writer Slavenka Drakulic, told AFP. That much is clear from her es­say on war crim­i­nals in the for­mer Yu­goslavia ti­tled “They Would Never hurt a Fly”. “A woman in such a po­si­tion has to be ‘bet­ter’ than men,” Drakulic wrote in an es­say on Plavsic. “In the given cir­cum­stances it meant tak­ing more rad­i­cal views.” Drakulic re­called the sci­en­tific-racist rhetoric used by Plavsic dur­ing Bos­nia’s war, the kind of ideas the Nazis would not have re­jected.

Plavsic, a for­mer bi­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor, la­beled Bos­nian Mus­lims a “ge­netic mis­take on the Ser­bian body”. Bos­nia’s war crimes pros­e­cu­tors say more cases against women sus­pects are in the pipe­line. Ac­cord­ing to lo­cal me­dia, some 40 women are be­ing in­ves­ti­gated for war crimes. Vis­nja Aci­movic, a 45-year-old Bos­nian Serb who now lives in neigh­bor­ing Ser­bia, is one of them. She is ac­cused of hav­ing taken part in the 1992 ex­e­cu­tions of 37 Mus­lims in the east­ern Bos­nian town of Vlasenica, most of them be­tween 15 and 20 years old. She de­nied the charges be­fore a Bel­grade court in Jan­uary, and Ser­bia will not ex­tra­dite its cit­i­zens for trial in Bos­nia. They do not trust Bos­nian jus­tice, her lawyer Krsto Bobot said. But not ev­ery­one en­joys such pro­tec­tion.

‘No­tably cruel’

In March, Switzer­land ex­tra­dited Elfeta Ve­seli, a for­mer mem­ber of Bos­nian Mus­lim forces, back to Bos­nia. She is ac­cused of the 1992 mur­der of a 12-year-old Serb in east­ern Bos­nia. As his fam­ily had fled, the boy re­turned for a for­got­ten dog and paid for it with his life. Ve­seli’s trial has yet to start. But as well as Ba­sic, the United States has also ex­tra­dited Rasema Han­danovic,44.

She had lied about her past as a for­mer mem­ber of a spe­cial Bos­nian Mus­lim unit. In 2012 she pleaded guilty to the ex­e­cu­tion of three civil­ians and three eth­nic Croat pris­on­ers of war in the cen­tral Bos­nian town of Trusina. “The order was to do the work at Trusina, so that no one re­mained alive,” she told the court. She was jailed for five and a half years. “Each of these women had her own per­sonal rea­son that could ex­plain her sadis­tic out­burst that tar­geted men in par­tic­u­lar,” said Bos­nian psy­chol­o­gist Is­met Diz­dare­vic. While there were fewer women war crim­i­nals they were no­tably cruel “to prove their power among men,” he told AFP. Most of war crimes com­mit­ted by women took place in a de­ten­tion con­text.

SARAJEVO: This hand­out pic­ture taken on Novem­ber 22, 2016 and re­leased by Bos­nia and Herze­gov­ina Pros­e­cu­tor Of­fice, shows Azra Ba­sic (58), (L), while be­ing pro­cessed by a law of­fi­cer af­ter her ar­rival at Sarajevo In­ter­na­tional air­port. — AFP

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