Elisabetta Zavoli | The phoenixes of Bosnia

Rape as a weapon of war. Between 1992 and 1995, during the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina, abuses by soldiers were not just a “side effect” of the conflict. Bosnia’s war was also fought on the body of women and girls: a lot of violence and rapes, in fact, were explicitly ordered by the officers as part of the strategy of ethnic cleansing taking place in the region. In those years, thousands of women, the estimates range from 20 to 50 thousand, were abused.

Twenty years after the outbreak of the conflict, what are the wounds that still remain open? Have the Hague International Court and local courts been able to give an adequate answer to the thousands of men and women demanding justice? Or is there a need for a different form of justice?

The project, promoted by several local associations, in order to create a “Court of Women”, already provides a first answer. It is actually a superpartes initiative involving “Women in Black” of Belgrade (in the role of project leader), the “Centre for Women’s Studies” of Zagreb and Belgrade, the “Centre for Women victims of war” of Zagreb, the “Network of women in Kosovo”, “Soul Kotor” of Montenegro, “Mothers of Srebrenica” and “Women for women” of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Court, which will have jurisdiction over the territory of former Yugoslavia, wants to propose a different model of justice, as opposed to that of traditional courts. A court that might place at its core women and their stories: not only to tell acts of violence, but also to provide spaces for dignity, listening and the recognition of loss. A court that focuses on victims and on survivors.

With my work, I would like to document the first steps of the “Court of Women” and understand what could be the possible developments. I have interviewed the protagonists of this initiative in order to raise their hands about the path that led to this initiative and their expectations. I have also met women who were raped and have had the chance and the courage to tell their experience and the strength of going ahead and be reborn. Eventually, I had the chance to talk with some young girls who volunteers in associations that deal with violence on women: they are strong and eager to re-construct Bosnia and Herzegovina; they aims to overcome the hates that have divided their parents, but at the same time, they have to deal with a country which has high rates of unemployment and severe economic crises.

I am not interested in making a political speech or discussing on the claims of those who have suffered major or minor wrongs during the conflict. At the heart of my work there is solely and exclusively women: Bosnian, Serbian and Croatian regardless of ethnicity. With this reportage I want to talk about the role women are playing in aiding each others to overcome the lack of justice of these 20 years after the beginning of war.

I would like that my work could be considered a tribute to their strength in facing war’s aftermath and in working for the construction of new Bosnia.


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