Four women stand on a ramp and look through a half-open door;  the house looks dilapidated

Fikreta shows her mother and two other women the house where she was raped when she was 15. “I still have dreams today. When I sleep at night, it seems like she is falling from the sky, from above. And they chase me, they run after me, I run, I run, I can't escape. And I start screaming in my sleep,” she says. Photo: Cornelia Suhan

During the 1992 Bosnian War, 20,000 women were raped and 50,000 murdered. Our author was at that time in Tuzla, in eastern Bosnia. A memory.

Outside Sarajevo, February 7, 2024, 09:57


myFirst it was the faces. The empty eyes, the gazes directed at nothing, that could be seen behind the bus window in the summer of 1992. A Red Cross worker pointed out to me that they were women from the area conquered by the Serbs in the east. from Bosnia. The Red Cross took them out of there and took them to a still safe and free area here in the city of Tuzla. She was visibly affected.

Little by little I began to understand. These refugees were victims of rape. It was already rumored that Serbian troops not only left a wide trail of blood during their advance in Bosnia, but also raped thousands of women as part of “ethnic cleansing.” But who can imagine that? When the full extent of the mass rapes became known, there was widespread solidarity among women, especially in Central Europe and Germany.

The beginning Photographer Cornelia Suhan first traveled to Bosnia in 1993 to set up a therapy center for raped women and the association “Vive Žene” – “Women, live!” Since 2000, the Dortmund association has created new outpatient psychosocial programs throughout Bosnia.

The process He continually faced descriptions of sexual violence. In the fall of 2018, she began photographing crime scenes that seemed to her to be “silent witnesses”: hospitals, hotels, sports halls, administrative buildings, schools, private homes were places of suffering that she documented. Suhan found a way to tell the fate of those affected without exposing them to the public again.

The result The book “Silent Witness” by Cornelia Suhan will be published in German in March by Gost Books. In addition to Vive Žene, the Bosnian organization Snaga Žene supported the photographer in her research. The information about the images comes from the book. (taz)

Hundreds of women headed to the region. One of the first was Monika Hauser, a medical student from South Tyrol who was about to take her exams. She wanted to combine medical treatment with psychological treatment, a very progressive position for the time. Supported by donations from the Western women's movement, she also had enough funds to bring the most modern medical equipment to the Zenica war zone.

In 1993, Hauser assembled a team of local doctors and psychologists who cared for affected women. The full picture was revealed through their reports and other information: At the beginning of the war, very few people expected that Serbian soldiers would take their nationalists' theories seriously and want to “cleanse” the conquered areas of non-Serbs. .

Many women in concentration camps.

The procedure was similar everywhere. The soldiers arrived at a village, rounded up the men, shot some, and locked the women in the school or barns. They had no escape; many were raped in front of their children or husbands. The inhabitants of neighboring towns tried to flee to Croatia or to the still free areas, but tens of thousands were unable to do so.

In the cities and towns of western Bosnia, hunting focused mainly on the elite; Teachers, judges, students and restaurant managers were among the preferred victims, and many women ended up in concentration camps. Or they were killed outright. Thousands of men did the same in the Omarska, Manjaca and Keraterm concentration camps.

Individual fates, such as that of a judge who took revenge on the criminals he sentenced, moved me deeply. From April 1992 through the fall, more than 50,000 people were murdered, at least 20,000 women were raped, and more than 2 million people were driven from their homes. Almost half of the total population of Bosnia and Herzegovina at that time. The crimes were aimed at creating ethnically pure populations. Rape, especially of Bosnian Muslim women, was used as a weapon of war; It was assumed that those who were raped and displaced did not want to return.

According to scientific studies by the Sarajevo Research and Documentation Center, more than 90 percent of the women raped during the Bosnian war were Muslims and the majority of perpetrators were Orthodox Christians, that is, Bosnian Serbs. It soon became clear to the journalists present that the violations were the result of a geostrategic calculation. They were part of the political plan of Serbia's political leaders at the time to expel the majority population of Bosnia and claim the country for themselves.

Monika Kleck arrived in the city of Tuzla, in eastern Bosnia, in 1994, where she was able to prevail militarily against the Serbian nationalist offensive. The then 24-year-old Psychology student also wanted to help the victims and joined Amica, an NGO founded in Freiburg. “There was a psychologist here, a Bosnian woman, who introduced me well and knew how to explain the traditions, especially of the rural population.”

Especially in patriarchal societies, women are responsible for men's honor, Kleck explains. Rapes were also directed against men who could not defend their wives. While Hauser sought an aggressive approach to the treatment of women in Zenica, Amica in Tuzla sought to avoid any stigma. It should not be recognized that the affected women have been raped.

However, Monika Kleck is not really satisfied. Even 30 years later, many women still suffer from depression; 58 percent of women have gynecological problems and still feel pain. But what is even more serious is that the experience is still alive. The socio-economic situation of the people is also catastrophic: they are the ones who lost their homes and farms, their families were destroyed and they live in abject poverty. And the divided state finds it difficult to recognize crimes: pensions and compensation must be enforced.

In Visegrad, on the banks of the Drina, there is a hotel, Vilina Vlas, which became a famous rape camp in 1992. Bakira Hasecic was then imprisoned and, after surviving, she founded the organization Zene Zrtve rata. She encourages women to let go of their shame and confront crimes aggressively. They go to the crime scene with like-minded people and try to find the perpetrators. It wasn't until this summer that two police officers recognized them. Of course, they were not arrested by the Serbian authorities in the region. But now they know each other.

In June 2008, the UN decided to define rape as a war crime. The world body was especially motivated by the systematic nature of the crimes in Bosnia. Since then, everyone has been required to obtain evidence of these types of war crimes in war zones. After all, this is something that the Bosnian victims achieved.