Victim helped make rape a war crime

Prijedor Bosnia-Herzegovina AP

There were days when she prayed for a bullet to end her suffering. When she thought she was dying of a heart attack, she whispered “Thank you, God.”

A young judge, Nusreta Sivac, was one of 37 women raped by guards at a concentration camp in Bosnia. She also witnessed murder and torture by Bosnian Serb guards — and was forced to clean blood from the walls and floors of the interrogation room. She memorized the names and faces of her tormentors so that one day she might bring them to justice.

It is partly thanks to Sivac’s efforts to gather testimony from women across Bosnia that rape has been categorized as a war crime under international law. Thirty people have been convicted at the International War Crimes Tribunal, and 30 cases are ongoing. She personally helped put the man who raped her repeatedly during her two months in captivity behind bars.

Bosnia’s 1992 to 1995 war was the bloodiest of the series of armed conflicts that erupted when the Yugoslav federation fell apart and its republics began declaring independence. According to the U.N., 20,000 to 50,000 Bosnian women were raped — many in special rape camps — during the war.

Even though the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 prohibited wartime rape, no court ever raised charges until Sivac and prosecutor Jadranka Cigelj presented their overwhelming evidence.

The effort finally paid off in June 1995 when the two traveled to The Hague to take part in preparations for the first indictment by the Yugoslav war crimes court. Their collected evidence exposed the magnitude of the problem so that courts could no longer ignore it. According to the United Nations, it was a major turning point in recognizing rape as a war crime.