Stories of the survivors
“My name is Fiki (pseudonym), I was born in 1977, and I am a woman from a village located in the municipality of Tuzla. I am a survivor of conflict-related sexual violence.
During the war, and during our journey and the chaos, nobody could protect us. We were walking through the woods, hiding, there were no police, and then, all the sudden, there were patrols coming. We did not know who they were. We did not know if they wanted to attack us or to help us. I do not know how we could have protected ourselves. If anybody had protected us, there probably would not have been a war, no chaos in which people fled in different directions. You did not know where to go; it was not good anywhere. It is difficult to leave your home when you do not know where to go.
In May of 1992, I fled my village with my mother, brother, and sister. During our journey, we were captured and taken to the Sušica concentration camp, where we were held for 10 days. Dragan Nikolić was the camp manager. One day, Nikolić took me out of the camp, led me to the guardhouse, and handed me over to some people who remain unknown. At the guardhouse, one of the guards kept watch while the other one raped me. Instantly, my mother knew what had happened to me. We did not talk about it. Later, we were released from the Sušica concentration camp. From the camp, we walked all the way to Cerska. When we arrived, we were put up in a local school, where we stayed for 10 days. On our tenth day in Cerska, I went to my house with some Bosnia and Herzegovina Army troops to collect some food for my family and to visit my father who had stayed behind. Upon arrival, the troops took me captive and shot my father dead on his very own doorstep. The soldiers took me back to the Sušica concentration camp where this time I was held for 21 days. There, the camp manager found my name on the list, smiled, and said, “you see, she is back here…” and I was separated and raped again. That time, they brought me to a private house near the camp. The soldiers who took me wore uniforms, but I did not see an insignia on them. While I was at Sušica I also watched the soldiers physically abuse other people. There, I was raped, physically and mentally tortured, and starved by the soldiers. After 21 days in Sušica, I was taken to Pelemiš—to the military demarcation line—and from there I journeyed to Kladanj and then to Živinice. From the time of my second capture and transfer to the Sušica concentration camp, until my arrival in Tuzla, I did not know anything about what was happening with my mother, brother and sister. In 1995, I found them, and together we moved to a neighborhood in Tuzla and rented a house.
One month later, I reported the incident to a doctor and a nurse when they visited the school in Živinice, where I was receiving services due to my status as a displaced person. Upon my arrival in Tuzla, I went to a center where people were providing services to victims of war crimes. There, a gynecologist examined me. Two nurses were also there, and later helped me find an apartment. I shared the apartment that they helped me find with two other women from Srebrenica during the next three years. Upon my arrival in Tuzla, I had access to healthcare services through the center which provided services to the victims of war crimes. At that time, I did not receive any psychological or legal support. It was not before 2002 that the Power of Women Association began providing psychological and later economic support. I have health insurance coverage through my husband, which is the reason I do not need to pay for medical examination.
However, I am always ill. I do not need anything when I am ill, but I am always seeing doctors, taking medicine; I often dream about what happened to me. I am worried, I see images…
After what had happened to me, I felt rejected. I thought that everyone avoided me because of my experience, that nobody needed me, that I was bad. I lost confidence in myself and others. I never sought justice because I do not know who the perpetrators are, which is also the reason it would be nearly impossible to file a lawsuit. To this day, I do not know who my perpetrators were. Dragan Nikolić, who was the camp manager, handed me over to unknown men who were wearing camouflage patterned uniforms. I didn’t notice an insignia. I was too scared to notice anything. I am afraid of the costs of trying to seek justice, and how all of that would look like. I also did not want to launch into the process of filing a lawsuit either. I have the status of a civilian victim of war, and I receive a benefit. Still, I have not exercised my right to compensation.”*
“My name is XXX and I am 24 years old. I am from the Damascus suburbs. When the Syrian revolution started in 2011, I began organising peaceful demonstrations against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, using social media. I was the founder of a social media group for the students in my area. I was a 17-year-old student at the time. I participated in several demonstrations in my town, which was under the control of the Free Syrian Army. Then the regime besieged it, bombarded it and took control of it. Many residents fled to a neighbouring town, including my family. I continued my studies there and resumed my activities under a different name.
In April 2014, when I was going shopping, a car with dark tinted windows approached me and one of the passengers called me by my own name, although people in the town where I was living did not know me under that name. Two other cars arrived and circled me. My uncle was inside one of the cars and it was clear that he had been tortured. His face was swollen, with cuts. He looked extremely scared. My uncle confirmed my name to them, and I could not deny it, because he is elderly and I could not blame him and let them torture him again. As a result, I was arrested, handcuffed, blindfolded and put in the trunk of the car where my uncle was, and taken to a checkpoint of the 14th Division of the Syrian Army. During the arrest, they hit me with their hands and the butt of a rifle on my whole body, especially my back and my shoulders. They also kicked me, insulted me and humiliated me.
At the 14th Division, they tortured me, physically and psychologically. They even asked me to describe the private parts of my aunt (my uncle’s wife). When they interrogated my uncle, they also asked him the same type of questions about his mother, her body and how many times he had sex with her. They forced us to respond and I was forced to insult my uncle and say in front of him that I had sex with his wife. They were experts in psychological torture. They tied my waist with a rope and pulled me around, like an animal. I felt powerless, deeply humiliated, and was extremely angry. Then started the physical torture. They sent a person specialised in torture to deal with me. He tied my feet and kicked my face until it was swollen. He would pull me from my hair and throw me on the floor so I would land on my face. He did it several times. He also hit me with a water pipe and with an electric wire on my whole body, including my knees and my fingernails. I lost a fingernail because of that. He then stripped me naked, threw cold water on me and electrocuted me. He hit me with a heated metal stick and burned my back. He made “drawings” on my back with the heated stick. He then inserted the stick in my anus, and I felt extreme pain and humiliation. This is a memory that I will never forget. He threatened to rape me in front of everyone. He did not do it but the threat in itself made me hysterical. He used pliers to pinch my nipples and my penis.”*
*‘In their Own Words. Voices of Survivors of Conflict-Related Sexual Violence and Service-Providers’, the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, digital book published on June 2021
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