Bosnia's wartime 'mistresses of life and death'

Published 24.07.2017 00:00
Photo shows Azra Basic, 58, (L), while being processed by a law officer after her arrival at Sarajevo International airport.
Photo shows Azra Basic, 58, (L), while being processed by a law officer after her arrival at Sarajevo International airport.

She may once have been known as "the mistress of life and death," but in the court trying her for war crimes Azra Basic hardly stands out.

Basic is among around a dozen women charged or convicted of crimes committed during Bosnia's inter-ethnic war in the 1990s which claimed nearly 100,000 lives.

Compared to the several hundred men convicted by local and international courts for crimes committed during the 1992-1995 war, the number of women is not many.

But several ex-prisoners have already testified in court to Basic's brutal torture of detainees since the trial opened in February.

One witness at Basic's trial recalled in testimony Friday the glimmer of hope he felt on April 26, 1992.

Dusan Nedic said he saw a woman called Azra enter a detention facility in the northern town of Derventa, where he was being held by ethnic Croats.

She spoke with other detainees, he recalled.

"For me it was a glimmer of hope," said Nedic. "I told myself that a 'woman should not be aggressive as men.'" But he was wrong.

"She started to beat the detainees, she was jumping on them while they were on the floor," the 55-year-old shoe factory worker said.

A short, silent, bespectacled woman, Basic avoids eye contact when in court.

When in 2011 the authorities finally caught up with her after the war, she was working in a food factory in the United States.

Basic has pleaded not guilty to war crimes against civilians and prisoners of war at the start of her trial, including a charge that she killed a prisoner.

"This person was not me," she told the court on Friday, her voice trembling.

"I swear before God and that's all," she added, as Slavisa Djuras, the son of Blagoje Djuras, the man she allegedly killed, looked on.

'Better' than men

Biljana Plavsic, now aged 86, remains the most famous woman war criminal from the former Yugoslavia. The former Bosnian Serb vice-president Biljana Plavsic is also the only one tried before the U.N. war crimes court in The Hague.

She was sentenced to 11 years in jail in 2003 after pleading guilty to crimes against humanity for her leading role in a campaign of persecution against Croats and Muslims during Bosnia's war.

"Women are just as capable of committing crimes," prominent Croatian writer Slavenka Drakulic, told AFP.

That much is clear from her essay on war criminals in the former Yugoslavia titled "They Would Never hurt a Fly."

"A woman in such a position has to be 'better' than men," Drakulic wrote in an essay on Plavsic.

"In the given circumstances it meant taking more radical views."

Drakulic recalled the scientific-racist rhetoric used by Plavsic during Bosnia's war, the kind of ideas the Nazis would not have rejected.

Plavsic, a former biology professor, labelled Bosnian Muslims a "genetic mistake on the Serbian body."

Bosnia's war crimes prosecutors say more cases against women suspects are in the pipeline. According to local media, some 40 women are being investigated for war crimes.

Visnja Acimovic, a 45-year-old Bosnian Serb who now lives in neighbouring Serbia, is one of them.

She is accused of having taken part in the 1992 executions of 37 Muslims in the eastern Bosnian town of Vlasenica, most of them between 15 and 20 years old.

She denied the charges before a Belgrade court in January, and Serbia will not extradite its citizens for trial in Bosnia.

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter