Canadian Parliament Adopts Srebrenica Genocide Resolution

Response to Smear Campaign Against the Institute

ACTION ALERT: Call for a Removal of ICTY Judge Flügge from Mladic's Trial

Institute for the Research of Genocide Canada

Ending sexual violence in armed conflict

Institute for the Research of Genocide Canada
Published: June 3, 2011  

Ending sexual violence in armed conflict

“My next door neighbour - a police officer at the time - Veljko Planincic, forced his way into our home, accompanied by about 20-30 individuals - members of the JNA (Yugoslav National Army)… of these men…raped my older daughter (18) in a bedroom in front of my husband, myself, and my younger daughter (15). After this, they busted her head with the butt of a rifle….”, recounted Bakira with great difficulty.

“…I was taken (and raped) from May 21st, 1992 onwards - the first time at the local police station, the second time at a local high school, and the third time at an institute for women and children with intellectual deficiencies. I survived Golgotha. I witnessed slaughter, killings. I was raped and sexually violated numerous times….”
Bakira Hasecic, president of the Sarajevo-based association Women Victims of War, was describing some of the horrors that she and her family lived through during the Bosnian war when Serb forces overtook her town, Visegrad, in eastern Bosnia, ethnically cleansing its majority Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) population. She addressed journalists, parliamentarians and stakeholders at a breakfast meeting and panel discussion following an international three-day conference hosted by the Nobel Women’s Initiative - “Women Forging a New Security: Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict.” It was held in Montebello, Quebec from May 23-25.

Six Nobel peace laureates joined forces in 2006 to create the Nobel Women’s Initiative. Three of them - Jody Williams, Mairead Corrigan Maguire, and Shirin Ebadi, were at last week’s conference. The others - Betty Williams, Wangari Maathai, and Rigoberta Menchu, could not be present. These incredible women sought to use the strength and power of the Nobel Peace Prize to promote women’s groups and causes on a global scale, working towards peace, justice and equality.

The conference focused on the devastation faced by women around the world in situations of armed conflict. Sexual violence is being used increasingly as an effective war strategy in places like Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Over 120 women from all over the world were present. Some, like Bakira, have survived unspeakable forms of rape and shared their stories. Other women from various government and non-governmental organizations, including media, were there to offer their input on strategy. A number of concepts were discussed as methods of putting an end to sexual violence in warfare: offering adequate support to survivors; fighting for justice; and banishing the concept of impunity.

By chance, I learned one week prior to this event that Bakira would be coming to Canada for the conference. I made plans to go down to Montebello and meet this amazing woman in person. It was impossible to attend the conference, already booked beyond capacity. However, through some glitches that arose, I ended up with the privilege of picking up Bakira at the airport and driving her to Montebello. I also replaced her interpreter Wednesday afternoon at the conference and accompanied Bakira to the breakfast meeting in Ottawa on Thursday, May 26.

Bakira is an incredibly strong and resilient woman. This is what made her become a Bosnian army fighter the minute she and her family could escape their tormentors. But regardless of how tough she is, it’s still very difficult for Bakira to tell her story. Yet she does it every chance she gets. The world must not forget what happened during the Bosnian war.

Bringing war criminals to justice has become Bakira’s mission. On Wednesday morning, she made a speech at the conference highlighting Bosnian Serb war criminal, Ratko Mladic - one of the three architects of the Bosnian genocide who remained at large (at that point). She asked for everyone’s help in bringing this man to justice.
The following morning while driving to Ottawa for the meeting, I got a call informing me of the astounding news of Mladic’s arrest the previous evening. I had the honour of being the first to announce this incredible news to Bakira, to her absolute delight. I was also blessed with the privilege of standing by Bakira’s side and interpreting for her at the meeting while she made the announcement of Mladic’s arrest, news which was greeted by the audience with a solid round of applause.

Bakira ended her announcement and the story of her personal suffering with a request to everyone present to do everything possible to seek the arrest of war criminals being harboured in Canada.

Questions or comments: [email protected]

Suzana Vukic

In her name: paying tribute to inspirational women

It’s not often we get a chance to pay tribute to the women in our lives who’ve inspired us. So when The Learning Centre of Vanier College posted an announcement for a writing competition dedicated to inspirational women, it gave me the impetus to write and submit a story.

The announcement for the contest was posted in February, 2011, in honour of the upcoming International Women’s Day. Students (and non-students, like myself) were asked to write about an inspirational woman in 250 words or less. The entries that came in were put together and published in a book in May, 2011, titled In Her Name: Inspirational Women 2011 and registered with Library and archives, Canada.

Forty entries were chosen for publication. Many contributors wrote about women close to them: mothers, sisters, aunts, grandmothers - everyday women who’ve touched the lives of people around them with their great capacity for love and selflessness, and their courage and strength in protecting and helping loved ones in difficult or perilous situations. These incredible women are also often credited with being a source of wisdom - veritable anchors in a world of uncertainty.

Some authors wrote about historical figures - women who have made an important contribution to humanity, leaving behind permanent imprints that will remain visible in the world long after they’re gone.

The woman I wrote about - Bakira Hasecic - falls in this category. She survived the Bosnian war and watched her hometown Visegrad, in eastern Bosnia, ethnically cleansed of its majority Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) population in 1992. She was raped. Bakira lost a total of 27 family members during the war.

Together with other survivors of wartime rape, Bakira founded the Sarajevo-based association Women Victims of War. This group provides support to women (and in some cases men) who were victims of mass and systematic rape during the Bosnian war and gathers their testimonies. It also actively pursues the war criminals who committed these rapes and other atrocities. Most of the group’s members are Bosniak women, but it also includes Serbian and Croatian women, as well as Bosniak men.

During the war, rape was used by the military as a strategy for ethnic cleansing. The goal was to shame and terrorize victims to the point where they’d never want to return home. Sadly, it worked; to this day, many victims have never returned home, not even for a visit.

Bakira lives in Sarajevo, but often returns to her native Visegrad. She has also encouraged others to return to the towns they were driven out of during the war. And she does everything possible to confront the war criminals in Visegrad. These people have created a culture of impunity for themselves; they’re often found in positions of power in this town. But Bakira never misses an opportunity to confront them, loudly and publicly.

Not long after In Her Name: Inspirational Women 2011 was published, I had the tremendous honour of meeting Bakira in person. And in what turned out to be an incredible twist of fate, this book was what made that blessed event possible. When I e-mailed Bakira to tell her about it, she informed me that she’d be coming to Canada - to Montebello, Quebec - for a three-day conference hosted by the Nobel Women’s Initiative - “Women Forging a New Security: Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict.” Montebello is less than two hours away from where I live, in Pierrefonds (a Montreal suburb), so there was no way I could miss out on the opportunity to meet this incredible woman. Had I not contacted Bakira at that particular time, I would have missed out on the chance to see her.

In reading the book, I discovered another connection . One of the entries, entitled “Cette femme inspirante” and written by Manoushka Baptiste, is about Nobel Laureate Betty Williams. This amazing woman, known for her efforts to bring peace to Northern Ireland during The Troubles, is one of the six women who founded the Nobel Women’s Initiative, the hosts of the conference that Bakira attended.

A coincidence of this nature brings to mind the age-old axiom “it’s a small world”. Indeed, we’re all interconnected, beyond what we realize. And it’s this connection to our fellow human beings that should make it unthinkable for us to turn a blind eye to the thousands of women in the world who have lived through, or are currently experiencing, sexual violence in situations of armed conflict.

Suzana Vukic, columnist and writer

Written for the IRGC

June 3, 2021

Institute for the Research of Genocide Canada