Breaking the Silence: The Women of Bosnia

“In all our public appearances, the message to victims is to break the silence and speak out, publicly and loudly about what they survived. Not just for us, but for themselves and for future generations to know, if, god forbid, such evil happens again, how to stand up to it, how to fight for their dignity.”

Bakira Hasečić – Bosnian Women’s Activist and Rape Survivor

In 1995, at the height of the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serb Nationalist forces conducted a campaign of rape, sexual abuse and torture against Bosnian Muslim women as part of a policy of ethnic cleansing.  It is estimated that between 20,000 and 50,000 women were raped, many of them in ‘rape camps’ where they were forcibly detained to prevent them terminating unwanted pregnancies as a result of the attacks.

The genocidal campaign also resulted in the deaths of more than 8,000 men and boys in Srebrenica and the surrounding forests.  Some men and boys managed to find their way home years later from internment camps and centres in neighbouring countries, others will never be found, so we will never know the true number of victims.

How does a society even begin to process such brutality?  How can the survivors begin to rebuild their lives as single parents in a war savaged society?  How can we find the language to speak of these atrocities to ensure that they are never repeated?  When I started film making, it was to try and redress the balance in media – to amplify voices of people who are rarely heard.  In places of conflict, the need to hear other narratives is even more important, to foster understanding between people and create conditions for peace and reconciliation.

It has therefore been a privilege and a challenge to play a part in sharing the testimonies of survivors of genocidal rape for Remembering Srebrenica.  The Charity is encouraging the public to ‘Break the Silence’ on violence against women and girls, and has used these powerful stories to highlight just how important it is to speak out against such extreme violence and hatred.

A Bosnian film crew interviewed a number of women, who recounted their horrendous experiences.  Unbelievably, many people deny that the genocide took place and many women live alongside the perpetrators of these crimes, who continue to walk freely.  Speaking out is a brave and radical act, which risks repercussions.

It has been my job to edit these interviews together into two films, alongside archive footage from the conflict.  The films are available to view on Remembering Srebrenica’s website and Social Media accounts – to date they have had almost 80,000 views between them.  The longer, seven minute film, was screened in May at the Scottish Parliament at a special event hosted by MSPs Ruth Davidson and Johann Lamont.  Scottish Labour Party leader, Kezia Dugdale has since been out to Bosnia to learn more.

Tomorrow I am attending a very special event at London’s Guildhall for Srebrenica Memorial Day.  In attendance will be some Bosnian women who have been active and vocal in ensuring that such atrocities are never repeated.  They have dedicated their lives to seeking justice in their communities and in the courts.  Politicians from across the political spectrum will also be there and will watch the film.

We all have a role to play in challenging the bigotry, intolerance and hatred which create the conditions for these horrors to occur.  That such events happened so recently and so close to home should act as a warning to us all that dehumanising groups of people and creating a climate of fear and paranoia can have real and devastating consequences.

Both films contain graphic accounts of sexual violence.

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