What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

Children of Bosnian wartime rape victims seek justice

Serbian men raped tens of thousands of Bosnian Muslim women during the Bosnian War between 1992 and 1995, a genocidal tactic to terrorize and destroy Muslim communities. Now, the people conceived by those assaults are adults and finding ways to reconcile with the past, either out loud or through introspection. NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports from Sarajevo.

Read the Full Transcript

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    Close to Sarajevo's wartime Sniper Alley is a small park containing military museum pieces from former Yugoslavia. It's here we meet Ajna Jusic, a 25 year old psychology student speaking on camera for the first time about being a living legacy of war.

  • AJNA JUSIĆ:

    For a long time, other children were laughing at me because I never knew my father's name when they asked me in high school or in primary school.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    Ajna is the product of rape. Her mother was raped by a Serb soldier who was a family acquaintance. Afterwards her mother she made a decision that many other pregnant rape victims found impossible. She chose to keep her child.

  • AJNA JUSIĆ:

    I am now living live to the full. But just two years ago I was literally struggling to survive; processing everything after I discovered who am I and what am I and how I came to this world. I was seeing a psychologist for a long time. I went to various experts who worked with me on empowerment, but as I got older I began to empower myself and accept the facts.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    It takes courage to break cover and reveal yourself as a product of wartime rape. A Bosnian rape survivors' non profit organisation estimates there are about sixty such young people people. This male nurse makes no attempt to hide. His name is Alen Muhic and he was born in Gorazde, a town 60 miles from Sarajevo that was besieged for much of the war.

  • ALEN MUHIC:

    I knew that I was a war baby but I didn't imagine my life and my past to be what they are, that I was adopted and that my parents are not my biological parents.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    Alen's Muslim mother became pregnant after being raped several times by a Serb man she knew before the war. Traumatised, she abandoned baby Alen in the hospital where she gave birth. And that's where he was spotted by Muharem Muhic who was working at the hospital during the siege.

  • MUHAREM MUHIC:

    We brought him home for two or three months while he was at the hospital. We played with him. We simply loved him and couldn't be separated from him.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    Muharem and his wife decided to adopt Alen.

  • MUHAREM MUHIC:

    I just wanted to get Alen out of the hospital so he could be with us, and to educate him properly. We were afraid what will happen to him if the Red Cross put him up for adoption. Who would take him? What would happen to him?

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    Gorazde is not a big place and gossip gets around. After some playground cruelty Alen's adoptive parents were forced to tell him about his background earlier than they had wanted.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    In 2007, this Serb man, Radmilo Vukovic, was tried for the rape of Alen's mother. Samples of Alen's DNA were used as evidence. Vukovic admitted committing the rape and was convicted by Bosnia's national war crimes tribunal. Initially he was jailed, but was freed after the Bosnian appeals chamber overturned the conviction, citing Vukovic's pre-war relationship with Alen's mother as a mitigating circumstance.

  • ALEN MUHIC:

    When he opened the door, I saw myself 20 to 30 years in the future. Same physical appearance, same shape of the head. Identical. It was like copy. Paste. We introduced ourselves, sat down in the garden, and started talking. I was so furious with his answers to my questions. I wanted to know why he admitted everything at the trial, but never got in touch with me after his release. He said he had never known my mother, he didn't commit any crime. I became so angry when he said the DNA analysis was fake and was planted on him. I realized then that there was nothing human in him and I just turned around and left without saying goodbye, without anything.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    As for Ajna Jusic, after years of therapy have allowed her to come to terms with her roots.

  • AJNA JUSIĆ:

    When somebody asks me what my most important identity is, I say that I am a daughter of a lioness mother, a mother who is a fighter.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    Bakira Hasecic, is a another survivor of wartime rape.

  • BAKIRA HASECIC:

    That image, even when am talking, I see it. It's always there in the shadows. It never goes away. Medicine hasn't yet come up with an eraser to get rid of these memories. I will live with them until the day I die.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    Hasecic campaigns on behalf of fellow victims. She runs a nonprofit that gathers evidence and tries to bring wartime rapists to justice. In her office this picture depicts a woman enduring rape but ultimately regaining happiness. The reality is not so simple.

  • BAKIRA HASECIC:

    It's very hard to talk about it, even after 26 years. Three times I was taken to three different locations and raped. Sometimes I ignore what happened to me, especially when I think of my child being tortured and not being able to help her.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    This is her daughter Amela. She was a school girl when she too was raped by Serb soldiers in front of her parents. Visegrad is where the lives of Hasecic and her daughter were torn apart. Today this predominantly Serb town in Eastern Bosnia markets itself as a tourist destination. But in 1992, three thousand Muslims were murdered and their bodies hurled from the bridge into the River Drina. Seventy people were burned alive in this cellar, and Hasecic is fighting to preserve this house as a museum and memorial to savagery. Her work is not limited to helping rape survivors. She has an even broader goal.

  • BAKIRA HASECIC:

    People are still looking for the bones of their loved ones so they can bury them with dignity. I have been thinking about these people, dreaming about them for years. They were my neighbors living 2-3 kilometers from me. One whole village, Koritnik, was burned alive in this house. The youngest victim was a two day old baby who didn't even have a name.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    Besima Catic Suljevic is a psychotherapist working with Hasecic's non profit. She says people in conflict zones like Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan must learn from Bosnia and avoid stigmatizing rape victims.

  • BESIMA ĆATIĆ-SULJEVIĆ:

    The majority of us realize that the woman was the victim and she did not have the possibility to defend herself. But there are countries where it is important to work with the community and send a clear message: it is not your fault, you are the victims, and you could not defend yourself because in this kind of situation it is impossible for a woman to defend herself.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    Some politicians wanted to set up a fund so that rape victims and the children who were born as a result could receive monthly compensation of about 280 dollars as well as additional benefits. And this package would include men as well, because male rape was used as a weapon of war. But the legislation was thwarted. It was blocked by Serb lawmakers. And critics see this as one of the failings of the Bosnia peace agreement, because as the country is currently constituted, any ethnic group can block any law that it doesn't like.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    Peter Van der Auweraert works for the United Nations and has studied the impact of rape in Bosnia's former battle grounds. He believes in prosecuting perpetrators, but says there are key lessons to learn from Bosnia's post war experience.

  • PETER VAN DER AUWERAERT:

    There was a total imbalance in the investment of resources and energy in focusing everything on criminal justice and not putting enough resources into softer measures if I could put it in that way to provide victims with reparations, to provide victims with access to mental health care, to give those people the tools, to give them the support they need to rebuild their lives.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    If she wanted to, Ajna Jusic could provide a sample of DNA and allow Bosnian prosecutors to open a case against her biological father. But she's unwilling to do so.

  • AJNA JUSIĆ:

    When I turned 18, I had the right to initiate a complaint against him. Then, I was in a difficult process of trying to grasp and accept what happened, not to mention trying to survive. But now at this stage of my life after so many years of effort and us working together to overcome all of this. I really don't want to meet him.

  • MALCOLM BRABANT:

    In Gorazde the circle of life has rotated. Alen Muhic is now a father and he promises to emulate his adoptive father, the man he calls dad.

  • ALEN MUHIC:

    I want my son to learn all the things my father taught me. To be righteous, realistic, not to judge people no matter how they appear, or what religion they follow because I also don't judge people. This injustice is the only thing that hurts me.

Listen to this Segment

The Latest