Bakira Hasečić is a Bosniak woman from Višegrad, a town in eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina. In 1992 during the ethnic cleansing of Višegrad that took place in the early days of the Bosnian war she was raped in the Višegrad police station by Bosnian Serb soldiers, members of the Army of Republika Srpska, and then taken elsewhere where she was raped by a soldier from Serbia. Her sister died in a Serb rape camp. Her experiences led to her becoming one of the most prominent human rights activists in Bosnia, working with organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. She campaigns to secure justice for the women victims of the Bosnian war in national and international courts, in particular the victims of rape and sexual abuse.
Today she is President of the Association of Women Victims of War (Udruzenje Žene-Žrtve Rata), based in Sarajevo. Her organisation campaigns for the rights of women who were the victims of rape and similar crimes during the war, gathering evidence and information about war criminals and rapists hiding in the Republika Srpska entity of Bosnia with a view to securing their prosecution. The Association has provided key testimony in rape and sexual abuse trials linked to the conflict and has helped obtain justice and financial and psychological aid for many of its thousand-plus members.
Bakira Hasečić was one of the victims of the notorious Milan Lukić and campaigned prominently to have rape charges included in the indictment against Milan and his cousin Sredoje Lukić before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia at The Hague.
At the trial of Zeljko Lelek for crimes against humanity committed in Višegrad during 1992, including murders, deportation, forcible detention and rape committed jointly with the Beli Orlovi paramilitary group commanded by Milan Lukic, Lelek's allegations that Bakira Hasečić was responsible for his detention led international judge Paul Melchior Brilman to observe that Lelek's allegations implied that "Hasečić is a very important person". The trial was the State Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina's first trial for Visegrad rapes. Lelek was subsequently found guilty of rape at Vilina Vlas and other crimes.
Bakira Hasečić has led efforts to encourage Muslims to return to Visegrad but she told Human Rights Watch that by 2005 she had resigned herself to the fact that "the return has failed, because war criminals continue to live freely there. Almost nobody returned to the town." (Returnees have often found themselves surrounded by low-level war criminals as their neighbors.)
Višegrad is a town on the Drina River in close proximity to the border with Serbia. The town was strategically important in the early days of the 1992-1995 Bosnian War. In early April 1992, in a pattern repeated elsewhere in Bosnia, the town came under artillery bombardment and eventually fell under the control of the Užice Corps of the Yugoslav National Army (JNA).
On 19 May 1992 the JNA officially withdrew and local Serb leaders established the Serbian Municipality of Višegrad. Soon after, local Serbs, police and paramilitaries began one of the war's most notorious campaigns of ethnic cleansing, aimed at eliminating the Bosniak population of Višegrad and the surrounding area.
A group of local paramilitaries, referred to variously as the White Eagles (Beli Orlovi), the Avengers or the Wolves and with ties to the Višegrad police and Serb military units, played a prominent role in the ethnic cleansing, committing numerous crimes including murder, rape, torture, beatings, looting and destruction of property. The group's leader was the notorious Bosnian Serb war criminal Milan Lukić.
Lukić established his headquarters at the Vilina Vlas Hotel on the outskirts of Višegrad, one of the various locations where local Bosniaks were detained. Vilina Vlas became notorious as a rape camp, one of several in Višegrad documented by a UN Commission of Enquiry report in 1994. At the same time it was, on Lukić's own admission, his unit's command post. One woman survivor reported Lukić raping her several times while she was a prisoner at the hotel. Up to 200 women were reported to have been detained there of whom only a handful survived - fewer than ten according to the Association of Women Victims of War. Most of the women prisoners were either killed or took their own lives. The bodies of the victims have not been found and are alleged to have been buried in concealed locations and then reburied.
International human rights organisations and refugees reported on the atrocities in the town in 1992. Amnesty International published an extensive report on rape in Bosnia and Herzegovina, mentioning Višegrad as a prime example, and a 1994 UN report on rape in Bosnia and Herzegovina specifically identified Vilina Vlas as one of the locations where the rapes occurred. Nevertheless rape charges were not included among the Višegrad crimes prosecuted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
Campaigning against the ICTY's failure to prosecute rape charges against Milan Lukić
Bakira Hasečić was one of the victims of Milan Lukić and campaigned prominently to have rape charges included in the indictment against Milan and his cousin Sredoje Lukić cousins before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) at The Hague. She challenged the ICTY's Chief Prosecutor Carla del Ponte's assertion that the prosecution did not have evidence for such charges when it drew up the indictment as no witnesseses would come forward. She insisted that she and other women had previously made statements to officials that were available to Hague investigators.
Del Ponte's special advisor and spokesperson acknowledged that the failure to bring charges lay with the Office of the Chief Prosecutor. He acknowledged that there was plenty of information about the rapes in Višegrad but tribunal prosecutors had been "unable to reach the witnesses" before the indictments were completed. The UN's "completion strategy" for the Tribunal ruled out prosecutors bringing new charges or amending existing ones unless a case was transferred to local courts elsewhere. Del Ponte suggested that the Tribunal might transfer the Lukićs' case to the War Crimes Chamber in Sarajevo and urged Women Victims of War to work with state prosecutors to have the indictments changed there.
Eventually, on 12 June 2008, less than a month before the trial started, the Prosecution filed a motion for a new indictment, adding rape and sexual slavery to the charges. The proposed new indictment charged the Lukić cousins with involvement, individually or together with others, in planning and/or the abetting of rape, keeping in slavery and torture of persons in detention centres and other locations in Višegrad town and its vicinity.
One day before the start of the trial, the Trial Chamber rejected the Prosecution's submission, ruling that such an amendment to the indictment would prejudice the right of the accused to have enough time to mount a defence.
During the reading of the Trial Chamber's verdict, Judge Patrick Robinson said there had been "many pieces of evidence pertaining to other crimes which include rape", however, since the Lukić cousins were not indicted for those crimes, "the Chamber did not determine their guilt for them".
- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OHxE3ELVJUY People & Power - Bosnia's broken promises (Al-Jazeera)
- "More than a decade later, Bosnian children born of war rape start asking questions". The Boston Globe.
- http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrc/docs/ngos/hrw-chanceforjustice.pdf A Chance for Justice? War Crime Prosecutions in Bosnia’s Serb Republic, Human Rights Watch, March 2006
- "BIRN report 20 October 2006: Višegrad rape victims' cries go unheard".
- http://www.legalaffairs.org/issues/January-February-2006/scene_bosco_janfeb06.msp A new war crimes court in Sarajevo struggles to find its way, David Bosco
- http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/documentaries/2008/01/071227_only_one_bakira.shtml Only One Bakira (BBC World Service), downloadable mp3. Retrieved 27 July 2010
- ova.com/channel/382226/episode/88/ Only One Bakira (BBC)
- A new war crimes court in Sarajevo struggles to find its way, David Bosco
- Investigation: Visegrad rape victimes say their cries go unheard,By: Nidžara Ahmetašević, Nerma Jelačić i Selma Boračić (Višegrad i Sarajevo) BIRN
- Women Victims of War/Zene Zrtve Rata  Website