If Albina Terzic is found guilty, she will only be the fifth woman in the world to be convicted of such an offence.
Almost 16 years after the war ended in Bosnia and Herzegovina, no woman has been tried for war crimes in the country, until now.
The trial of a woman who served in the Croatian Defence Council, HVO, accused of inhuman treatment of prisoners in northern Bosnia, began on Tuesday before Bosnia’s State Court.
If she is convicted, she will be the first woman convicted of war crimes in a Bosnian court and only the fifth woman convicted in the world for war crimes.
Albina Terzic, a former member of the Military Police within the HVO is charged with having participated in the inhumane treatment of Serbian detainees near the town of Odzak between May and mid-July 1992.
The indictment says Terzic “used to hit them with a police baton on their necks, shoulders and heads, slap them, encouraged dogs to attack them, tortured, abused, humiliated and insulted them in various ways, by, among other things, forcing the detainees into having sexual intercourse or other forms of sexual violence.”
Terzic has entered a plea of not guilty.
Only one woman has been convicted of war crimes in Bosnia, and that was in The Hague.
Biljana Plavsic, who served as wartime vice-president of the Bosnian Srb emtity, Republika Srpska, pled guilty to charges of crimes against humanity before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY.
She was released in 2009 after serving two-thirds of her 11-year sentence. She was the highest-ranking Bosnian Serb official to be sentenced by the Hague tribunal.
Currently, approximately 20 to 30 women are being investigated by the State Prosecutor’s Office for war crimes, Boris Grubesic, spokesman for the Office, confirmed to Balkan Insight. Another ten to 15 are being investigated by lower level prosecutors’ offices.
There is very little data about the number of women fatalities in the war in Bosnia. According to a 2010 ICTY report, only 526 of the 62,626 combatants who died on all sides were women.
Of the 90-90,000 troops serving in the Bosniak [Muslim] dominated Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina, ARBiH, 5,360 were women, according to the website of the Patriotska Liga, a veterans organisation.
Several thousand women are estimated to have been part of the Croatian Defense Council, HVO, which numbered 64-70,000 troops, and the Army of Republika Srpska, VRS, which had an estimated 100,000 soldiers.
The Bosnian Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Veterans told Balkan Insight they did not have estimates of the number of women who participated in the HVO or VRS, and veterans organizations did not respond to requests for comment.
While Terzic is the only woman to be indicted in Bosnia, two women accused of having committed war crimes on Bosnian soil were apprehended in the Unites States this spring.
Azra Basic, who assumed the first name “Issabell” during her time in the US, was arrested in May in Stanton, Kentucky, for crimes committed in detention camps in Cardak, a predominantly Bosnian Serb settlement in the northern town of Derventa.
According to the Doboj Prosecutor’s Office investigating Basic’s case, she was a commander in the 108th Rijeka Brigade of the Croatian Army. She is charged with participating in the abuse and murder of civilians from April to July 1992 in detention camps in Derventa.
Rasima Handanovic, 39, was arrested in April in the state of Oregon and accused of helping the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina lead an attack on the village of Bosnian Croat Trusina, near the town of Konjic in central Bosnia, which resulted in the deaths of 16 people and serious injury of four others.
An extradition request issued by the State court of Bosnia and Herzegovina alleges that Handanovic shot and killed a woman and an elderly death in Trusina. The extradition request also accuses her of participating in “firing squad style executions” on the same day on unarmed Croatian soldiers and civilians in another village.
“After the members of the firing squad concluded their shooting, Handanovic allegedly approached the individuals on the ground and fired additional shots at close range into the bodies of those who still showed signs of life,” according to a press release from the US Attorney’s office.
TRIAL Watch, a Swiss organization monitoring global human rights abuses, lists only four convicted female war criminals in the world, three from Rwanda and Plavsic from former Yugoslavia.
Boris Grubesic, of the State Prosecutor’s Office, told Balkan Insight that the small amount of investigations into women suspects reflected the small amount of women who had served in the various armed formations in former Yugoslavia.“Women are not usually included in warfare. During the war [in Bosnia], it was unusual for women to participate in the police or in armies,” he maintained.