BOSNIA & HERTZEGOVINA: Bosnian War's Wicked Women Get Off Lightly

Monday, February 7, 2011
Balkan Insight
Bosnia and Herzegovina
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Human Rights
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

Not one woman has yet faced trial before a Bosnian court for war crimes, even though many victims of horrific crimes committed in the 1992-95 war in Bosnia have spoken in the witness box about the “ladies” who they say tortured them.

Many victims say they well remember the faces and names of the women who, in some instances, appear to have been far crueler than their male abusers. Today, these victims wonder why none has been called to account for their allegedly shocking crimes.

Of the various prosecutors' offices in Bosnia and Herzegovina, four are conducting investigations into about 40 women suspected of involvement in war crimes. The remaining 13 offices are not conducting any such investigations.

While prosecutors' offices say many female war-crime suspects are just not available to the judicial authorities, BIRN - Justice Report has learned that some women associated with war crimes are, in fact, employed in major state institutions, such as the tax office.

Experts say the lack of indictments against women may reflect the fact that, in general, women carried out far fewer crimes than men. But they also say there is no doubt that some women “succumbed to the general aggressive atmosphere” and the prevailing ideology.

“On average, far fewer women commit crimes than men,” Ismet Dizdarevic, a social psychologist, said. “But those women who do opt for such acts sometimes commit much more drastic, severe and sadistic crimes than those committed by men,” he added.

Biljana Plavsic, former president of the Bosnian Serb entity, the Republika Srpska, is the only woman to have faced trial for war crimes committed in Bosnia, though not before a Bosnian court but before the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia, ICTY, in the Hague.

After she admitted guilt in 2003, the ICTY sentenced her to 11 years in prison for her role in persecuting and murdering thousands of people. She was released in October 2009 after serving two-thirds of her sentence.

From alleged torturer to civil servant:

Although the State Prosecutor's Office claims it is working on investigations into 28 women, it has yet to raise a single indictment, nor it is known whether it will indict any women soon.

Of all the prosecutors' offices, the District Prosecutor's Office in Doboj has gone furthest in this field. In 2007, for example, it indicted Indira Vrbanjac Kameric for crimes committed in Bosanski Brod.

Kameric was named as one of the commanders of a women's detention camp housed in the Polet sports stadium in Bosanski Brod.

That year, the State Prosecutor's Office took over the case. But, citing concerns for “professional standards and prosecutorial ethic”, it declines to say when the investigation into Kameric will be finished or whether an indictment will be raised.

To the dismay of former detainees in Bosanski Brod, Kameric still works as a civil servant in Bosnia. BIRN - Justice Report learned that Kameric works for the Cantonal Tax Office in the town of Tuzla. We tried to contact her but in vain. The tax office said she was on sick leave.

While the investigation is in progress, her alleged victims from the Bosanski Brod area are reluctant to talk publicly about the case. Some say they made many statements in the past, but with no effect.

“If we had the rule of law here, she would have been imprisoned long ago,” said one former detainee in the Bosniak run camp in Brod who now belongs to an organisation of former detainees and spoke to many of the women formerly held in Polet.

“She used to take women to the front line where countless soldiers raped them all night,” this anonymous source said. “Can you imagine what a woman looks like after 20 men in one night raped her?”

He said he was deeply disappointed that “criminals like Indira are still walking round the town, provoking people”, adding that the prosecutors' offices “are not doing their job”.

She looked like a little girl:

Among the most infamous women war criminals from the Bosnian war is Monika Simonovic, from Brcko.

According to various witnesses, she was the girlfriend of Goran Jelisic “Adolf”, whom the Hague Tribunal jailed for 40 years in 2001 for crimes carried out in the “Luka” camp where, according to the verdict, he held “a position of authority”.

Her brother, Konstantin, was the camp commander.

Although to many people she looked like a little girl, witnesses say that in 1992 Simonovic took part in some of the worst atrocities of the war in the Luka camp.

“She looked like a little girl but all she had was a female name. She wasn't a woman, she was a monster,” Dzafer Deronjic, a former prisoner from Luka camp, said.

“There are few people like her. Whether she was naturally gifted, instructed, or just did these things without knowing...” he tailed off.

Amir Didic also remembers Monika Simonovic. At the start of the Jelisic trial in The Hague, in 1999, he said she and Jelisic together beat him several times a day in Luka camp.

“They used to swear at us and tell us we should all be killed,” he said at the trial. “She kept saying: ‘Why don't you kill him? Why are you arguing with him?', while Jelisic was all the time beating me with a bat and fire hose.”

Dzafer Deronjic told BIRN – Justice Report that Simonovic searched prisoners almost every day and “stole everything that could be taken”, adding that she “could do whatever she wanted.

“I heard that she smashed a bottle and used it to rip up one of the prisoners. I saw the ripped-up man but I did not see the moment when she did this,” Deronjic added.

He did not know where she was today. Nor does anybody, it appears. Fadil Redzic, head of the Association of Prisoners of Brcko District, believes she fled the town when her brother, Konstantin, was arrested, and has not returned.

Konstantin Simonovic “Kole”, the former commander at Luka, pleaded guilty in 2005 and was sentenced to six years' prison by the Basic Court in Brcko.

In spite of the weight of testimony against her, the Prosecutor's Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina is not even investigating Monika Simonovic, the spokesman, Boris Grubesic, said.

The Public Prosecutor's Office of Brcko District, meanwhile, says it “cannot give out information about specific investigations”.

Now working as a judge:

Bosnian war victims from the town of Visegrad, eastern Bosnia, are up in arms about another case, which they describe as shocking.

Dragana Djeric Cerovic has not fled the country. On the contrary, the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council of Bosnia and Herzegovina this February appointed her a judge in the Municipal Court in Velika Kladusa, in spite of claims that she personally executed Bosniak [Muslim] detainees in Visegrad in the war.

Bakira Hasecic, president of the Association of Women Victims of War, from Visegrad, said Cerovic had boasted to her of her bloodthirsty exploits.

“She took out a machine gun to shoot Bosniaks because her father had died, and told me: ‘You'll remember who the Serbs are'”, she said. “I cannot wait to see her face to face.”

Hasecic claims that Judge Djeric Cerovic is responsible for the disappearance of four of her neighbours, including two children, about which the investigative authorities are also informed.

Djeric Cerovic told BIRN-Justice Report that she was aware of the claims made about her past but refused to comment further. “You should contact the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council - this is my comment,” she said.

Last September, the Office of the Disciplinary Counsel dismissed claims that Djeric Cerovic had submitted “false, incomplete or misleading information” when she applied for a judge's post. But it admitted that it had not carried out a criminal investigation, saying this was not in its competence.

Iset Dizdarevic says gender differences and myths about the “fairer sex” should never be an obstacle or a mitigating circumstance in the pursuit of war crimes. “Justice must not differentiate between women and men,” he said. In some cases, a woman is just another person who has committed a crime.”