Sarajevo Trial Runs into Trouble

By Amra Kebo in Sarajevo (TU 306, 24-28 March 2003)

Sarajevo Trial Runs into Trouble

By Amra Kebo in Sarajevo (TU 306, 24-28 March 2003)

Tuesday, 22 February, 2005

Former Serb soldier Zarko Pandurevic has been accused of raping two Bosnian Muslim women who were trapped on the wrong side of the front line. But the prosecutors are now having difficulties.

A prosecution witness has backtracked on her testimony - telling the court that the two women concerned were promiscuous and may have been regarded as easy prey.

And officials have told IWPR that other vital witnesses are refusing to come forward - as they are scared of being seen to take sides in a trial which is taking place in the heart of their community.

In an attempt to protect the witnesses, the judge reversed her original decision to hold the trial in public, and has instead ruled that it should be help in closed session.

Pandurevic was arrested by police on October 15, 2002, and charged with raping two women - named in court only as Gara and Zuta - during the early days of the Sarajevo siege in 1992.

Sarajevo prosecutor Ibrahim Hadzic said that the defendant stands accused on "intimidating" the women into agreeing to sex, adding, "The indictment accuses him of torturing civilians - especially women - and forcing non-Serbs into labouring jobs."

This is a highly-charged issue, and goes to the heart of a very difficult subject - whether Bosnian Muslim women on the wrong side of the front line had sex with soldiers because they were forced into it, or because they wanted to.

The district of Grbavica, where Pandurevic was based, was the largest Serb-held enclave in Sarajevo. Non-Serbs left behind in this district found themselves at the mercy of military and paramilitary units.

The two women mentioned in the trial were allegedly forced to work as cleaners in apartments used by Bosnian Serb forces.

Pandurevic has admitted having sex with both - but insists it was consensual. "I did not even know Gara's real name at the time," he told the court.

The defendant said that he knew Zuta, and met Gara through her when he went to a party at his cousin's apartment in Grbavica, where everybody "binged on brandy".

Prosecutors allege that he raped Zuta early the next morning. Pandurevic denies this.

A few days later, the defendant said that he asked Zuta to bring her friend Gara for coffee.

"When Gara arrived, I told her that we should socialise more, but she said she did not feel like it," he told the court.

However, he said Zuta persuaded Gara to have sex with him later that day. He claims that, as it was a hot day, the latter had removed her underwear voluntarily. Pandurevic then told the court that "Zuta left the room and the two of us did it, then parted ways".

He said other women of different ethnicities were outside the building and they would have heard Gara shouting if she had resisted his advances. "I would then have been ashamed to pass by them," he said.

Pandurevic said he had a girlfriend at the time and was not desperate for sex. He has also said that both women were friendly to him later.

He also claimed that he was only a part time soldier who was never issued with a proper uniform, and that he worked as a guard and a driver - making it less likely that he could have used his military position to intimidate the women.

The witness who changed her testimony has not been named. In April 2000, she originally told investigators that women who cleaned apartments in Grbavica had had many problems, and that Zuta and Gara, in particular, had been abused by Serb soldiers.

But when called upon to give evidence in court, she changed her story, saying that the two women were well known as being promiscuous in Serb-held Grbavica during the war.

This is the fourth trial in Sarajevo to treat rape as a war crime. Earlier hearings have produced guilty verdicts, and carried sentences of between 10 and 20 years.

The case continues.

Amra Kebo is a commentator for the Sarajevo daily Oslobodjenje

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