Highlighting Cases of Wartime Sexual Violence in Bosnia

It’s been 20 years since the start of Bosnian war. All year, journalists have used this anniversary not only to revisit their coverage of the region, but also to highlight how communities and individuals continue to experience the aftermath of a conflict that uprooted families from their homes, saw widespread wartime sexual violence and resulted in the deaths of over 100,000 people between 1992-1995Unprotected, a recent documentary by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, looks at the harrowing experience of a Bosnian woman to highlight the way people are treated when called as witnesses at war crimes trials.

The full documentary is available on Youtube and embedded here:

Twenty years ago, the woman identified as Z.R. was raped, and watched as her family was murdered. In the first half of the documentary, she describes how, due to a lack of government support, she was forced to face the man who attacked her and her family, even though she was supposed to be a protected witness during the trial against him. She is still suffering the consequences of reliving that nightmare today. [Read more...]

Film Review: Unveiled Views

“When someone wants to be an artist, because they cannot let what’s going on around them stay the same, achieving fame in the world of art becomes unimportant.” –Alma Suljevic

I am a lover of all art forms, including cinema; the Women Make Movies initiative, and the kind of varied and thought-provoking cinema they help produce, has always captured my interest.

Alba Sotorra’s 2009 film Unveiled Views was a movie I could sit and proudly watch on my own, or even watch with family.

It’s a movie that makes a Muslim woman proud to be a Muslim, or most importantly proud to be a woman who is not looking to be saved by others, as MMW’s Sana describes out in her recent “Broken Record” article. This documentary speaks about women who, in spite of having undergone tremendous personal loss, retain their passions and use them to better their tumultuous world, which is in dire need of reformation.

Like most documentaries, it’s not always what is obviously portrayed or being spoken about that leaves a lasting impression on you. It’s mostly about what is happening around these women, the images that are shown about the country as a whole, where these wonderful women exist and survive. I will be referring to them as the Silent Moments (if any) in my take on each segment.

The movie is about five extraordinary women from five different countries. [Read more...]

Women, War & Peace Reviewed

In October and November of this year, PBS aired a five part series, “Women, War & Peace,” in the United States. The series website explains: “Women, War & Peace spotlights the stories of women in conflict zones from Bosnia to Afghanistan and Colombia to Liberia, placing women at the center of an urgent dialogue about conflict and security, and reframing our understanding of modern warfare.”

Several of the episodes in the series focus on conflicts that Muslim women face and resist around the world: Bosnian women in I Came to Testify tell their story of war and rape at the hands of Serbian forces, and their courageous journey that led to rape to be considered a crime in international law. The award-winning Pray the Devil Back to Hell tells the story of this year’s Nobel prize winner Leymah Gbowee’s activism in the organization she helped found, “The Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace,” which brought Christian and Muslim Liberian women together to collectively promote peace in their country. And Peace Unveiled (sigh—another veil pun title) looks at the political activism of the Afghan Women’s Network and their work to promote the rights of women in Afghanistan.

These women’s stories are difficult to listen to—the violence, setbacks, and social norms they face seem immeasurable at times. The episodes highlight the complexity of how conflict affects their everyday lives. A Bosnian woman who testified at the Hague, Witness 99, shares her thoughts after the trial towards the end of I Came to Testify; the accompanying scene shows a Bosnian woman who visits the grave of a family member to offer her prayers:

“I was glad that everyone would answer for what they had done, but it wasn’t a very harsh sentence…You know that rape is the worst form of humiliation for any woman. But that was the goal—to kill a woman’s dignity.”

Another insightful segment from Pray the Devil Back to Hell describes how the collaboration between Muslim and Christian Liberian women came to be. Asatu Ban Kenneth, now the assistant director of the Liberian National Police, speaks up at a church where Leymah Gbowee had presented the work of the Christian Women’s Peace Initiative:

“I’m the only Muslim in this church…God is up. We’re all serving the same God. This is not only for the Christian women. I want to promise you all today that I’m going to move it forward with the Muslim women.”

The secretary of the organization explains that there were some initial concerns by the members of its newfound interfaith nature:

“But the message that we took on: Can the bullet pick and choose? Does the bullet know Christian from Muslim?”

[Read more...]

All’s Fair in Love and War? Jolie’s New Film Deals with Bosnian-Serbian War

Angelina Jolie is known more for being the sexier half of Brangelina and her patchwork family, but her luscious lips and film projects are a close second.  The latest controversy regarding the actress’s directorial debut flick in Bosnia is about a Muslim woman.

The yet-to-be-titled film is set in Bosnia on the eve of the 1992 Bosnian war, where war crimes and ethnic cleansing left more than 100,000 dead  and thousands missing. Many Bosnian-Muslim women were raped by Serbian soldiers; rape was used as a strategic weapon of war. You can find a timeline of Bosnia’s recent and tumultuous history in this Telegraph article.

Photo Credit: Ken Regan, GK Films LLC. All rights reserved.

A focal point in Jolie’s film is a love affair between a Bosnian woman and a Serbian man. Jolie has asked critics to “hold judgment” until the film is released, but rumors have been spreading like wildfire. One claims there is an inter-ethnic rape scene, and there have been objections from women who were sexually assaulted during the conflict:  According to the article in Telegraph, “Jolie was accused by two victims’ associations of attempting to ‘falsify the historic truth about the crimes of mass gang rapes of Bosnian women’ by Serbian forces during the war.”  Bakira Hasecic, President of the Bosnian Women Victims of War Association, has criticized the subject matter claiming that the plot of the film focuses on the lead female character is essentially “falling in love with her torturer.”

[Read more...]