Rape victims tell Angelina Jolie to leave stories untold

The women's stories are all the same, about men carrying automatic weapons and flashlights, and breaking into their homes in the middle of the night at the beginning of the Balkan war in April 1992.

After the men had been taken away or killed, the Muslim girls and women were repeatedly raped for weeks or even months by Serb soldiers, before managing to flee in the summer of 1992. Since then the women have had to live with the trauma of what happened, and have spent nearly two decades looking for justice.

The ordeal of the Bosniak women has been thrust into the spotlight again, after it was announced recently that Angelina Jolie is to make a film which will allegedly tell of the love between a Serb rapist and his Muslim victim. The Hollywood star is to begin shooting her first project as a director and scriptwriter, as yet untitled, in Sarajevo next month.

But for victims of mass rapes in Bosnia, the idea of their stories being retold is almost torture. Their faces offer horrified expressions, their hands shake and bodies tremble as they speak, in tears, about events that changed their lives forever.

For Bakira Hasecic, the 55-year-old head of the Women Victims of War (WVW) association, there is no way anyone can turn the trauma of Bosniak women into film.

"What we have gone through cannot be filmed," says Ms Hasecic in Sarajevo. Originally from Visegrad in Bosnia, she is also victim of repeated rape and has dedicated her life to finding the perpetrators and bringing them to justice. "I'm doing all this to prevent our ordeal from ever happening again... but revenge leads nowhere", she told The Independent.

"My only thought was to stay alive because of my children and live enough to point at that man's face any time, before any court," Enisa Salcinovic, 58, said. She heads the Association of Concentration Camp Torture Survivors (ACCTS) in Sarajevo, one of several NGOs that gather together some 20,000 women, all victims of rape in Bosnian war that ended 15 years ago.

For months, Ms Salcinovic was repeatedly raped in front of her children when the conflict broke out. The war resulted in ethnic cleansing of some 250,000 Muslims from Bosnia, with rapes seen as the ultimate humiliation for a defeated enemy.

Ninety per cent of rape victims in Bosnian war were Muslim women, aged between 12 and 80. Most of them are still in therapy, not only because of rape, but also the deaths of children, husbands, parents or siblings, property and homes. Many suffer from chronic diseases caused by psychological trauma. Almost none has returned to their pre-war hometowns, which are now in Bosnian Serb-controlled Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Hundreds, possibly thousands, of girls and women got pregnant, but terminated pregnancies once they fled to Muslim-controlled parts of the country in 1992 or 1993.

As many as 200 gave birth to children, but put them out to adoption or sent them to orphanages. Only a few kept their children, mostly hiding the gruesome truth about their fathers.

The raped women were widely stigmatised in the conservative Muslim society, and many were rejected by their families as details of their ordeal emerged. NGOs have been supporting and registering the women since 1995, and now they are entitled to receive what many consider to be a meagre €250 a month in state support.

Experts, such as Sarajevo psychiatrist Dr Dubravka Salcic, prefer to call these women "survivors" of the rapes. "That gives hope, shows their strength to go on. It takes courage to admit what happened and these women deserve all the support. But their wounds will never heal," he said.

The eight sentence synopsis by Ms Jolie, obtained by The Independent, does not mention rape but says the young characters Lejla and Danijel are separated by the war, and meet again later, under changed circumstances. Danijel is a prison camp commander and Lejla an inmate. "Danijel tries to find the best solution that would be acceptable for all. The question is if such a solution exists at all," the synopsis reads.

The international war crimes tribunal in The Hague, along with domestic courts in Sarajevo, have so far passed sentences totalling 500 years against the perpetrators of the mass rape of Bosniak women.

"It's for us to tell the truth," says Jasmina, a survivor and a prosecution witness in several cases. She and her young daughter were raped in Foca in 1992. "But I'm not satisfied [with the prison sentences], a couple of years and that's it. And every statement I give opens up the old wounds that can never go away."

Art irritating life

* Julia Roberts managed to upset villagers in India last year when she was filming her recent movie, Eat, Pray, Love. Locals in the town of Pataudi say that the film, which used a local temple, interrupted Navratri, one of the year's most important religious festivals.

* A year before getting annoyed with Ms Roberts, Mike Myers felt the wrath of India's Hindus, who argued that his movie, The Love Guru, undermined religious sentiment. In the film Myers played Guru Pitka, who moved to the US to resolve the marital problems of a Canadian ice hockey player.

* Residents of the Romanian village of Glod, where Sacha Baron Cohen's Borat was filmed, threatened to sue the movie's makers, arguing it showed them to be savages. The case was dismissed.

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