Bosnians demand an end to the arms embargo

Issue 

By Jennifer Thompson

"End the arms embargo" was the main demand of a demonstration of 6000 Bosnians and their supporters in Melbourne on July 23 to protest against the war in Bosnia. Speakers included representatives from the Labor and Liberal parties, the Democrats, Amnesty International and a former leader of the Democrats, Janet Powell.

Most speakers condemned the war in Bosnia, but failed to call for the arms embargo to be lifted. It was left to a representative from the Victorian Bosnian Association to call for Bosnians to have the right to defend themselves. The call for lifting the arms embargo was overwhelmingly supported by the crowd.

In Sydney, more than 6000 members of the Bosnian community and other supporters rallied on the same day. Osman Softic, a member of NSW's Bosnian community, told Green Left Weekly that the impetus for organising the demonstration was sparked by Serb army atrocities in Srebrenica and Zepa.

The demonstration demanded that the international community, and especially the UN, implement Security Council resolutions on the protection of the "safe areas". The rally also demanded that the UN arms embargo on the Bosnian government be lifted, allowing Bosnians the basic right to defend themselves.

Softic said the protest demanded that the Australian government recognise that the Serb state is the aggressor and the Bosnian state the victim. The federal government, he said, had previously take the position that the war was some sort of "civil" or "ethnic" war, in which all sides were at fault.

The rally was organised jointly by the Bosnian Community of NSW, the Australian Croatian Congress (ACC) and the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC). Speakers included Dr Dzemal Hadzismajlovic of the Bosnian community, Ced Simpson from Amnesty International, Iftkhar Aziz representing AFIC, Labor MP for Reid Laurie Ferguson, Ivan Nimac from the ACC and Jasmina Bajrktarevic, who worked with refugees in Croatian camps and now in Australia.

Paul Keating, said Softic, also received a timely reminder from protesters, many of whom live in his electorate of Bankstown, that the federal government should increase the intake and care of Bosnian refugees.

The government has responded by promising $3 million in humanitarian aid to Bosnia, of which $1.6 million will go to the UN Committee for Human Rights.

Sofic said the next focus will be on raising money to send to Bosnia to provide much-needed aid. A fundraising campaign is being organised by AFIC, Muslim Aid of Australia and the Australian Bosnian Community.

Speech to rally

Following is the text of Jasmina Bajrktarevic's speech to the July 23 Sydney rally.

I was asked to participate in today's event and to express some of the most pressing needs and issues of Bosnian women. In this short time, I will try to disclose Bosnian women's feelings and thoughts that are painfully embodied in the tragedy of Srebrenica.

Time magazine in its last issue ["At the Helm of Horror", July 24] stated: "The refugees also reported seeing women dragged by jeering Serbs and hearing the sound of women screaming. The implication was that the Serbs were once again using rape as a weapon of war."

On the other hand, in well-heated and comfortable UN meeting halls far away from the suffering of Srebrenica, the Vienna Declaration and Program of Action were produced. It was stated there: "Violations of the human rights of women in situations of armed conflict are violations of the fundamental principles of international human rights and humanitarian law. All violations of any kind, including in particular murder, systematic rape, sexual slavery, forced pregnancy, require a particularly effective response."

Were the women of Srebrenica protected from these violations that "require a particularly effective response"? Will the women in Zepa, Gorazde and Bihac be? I wonder what this "effective response" represents in the real world of humiliation and suffering?

UN declarations sound very good. They often give me an illusion of a better world. Srebrenica shatters all my assumptions of that world and makes me realise that these illusions are what they are — dust in the wind. The UN will soon have its World Conference on Women, the so-called "Conference of Commitments", but I wonder if all this is just a game.

Other women of Srebrenica are left to struggle for their and their children's survival on their own. Their male family members can not offer them any support. Husbands, sons and fathers are "being investigated for war crimes" while this so-called investigation may itself be regarded as a crime against humanity.

Eighty per cent of the world's refugees are women and children. Most of the Srebrenica refugees are women and children.

Bosnian women agree with all the demands expressed by the previous speakers but they further demand:

  • the immediate and full recognition and prosecution of rape and other sexual violence as war crimes by the International War Crimes Tribunal;

  • that Bosnian Serbs give the International Committee of the Red Cross full access to the men of Srebrenica; as a second step, these men should be released and reunited with their families as soon as possible;

  • urgent and appropriate assistance to the women and children of Srebrenica by the Australian government, including health care.

Since Australia may be a shelter for many women from Srebrenica, we further demand that:

  • more Bosnian women are brought to Australia under the Women at Risk program;

  • the introduction of the guideline for refugee women as proposed by Amnesty International in Refugee Week, 1995, be adopted by the Australian government;

  • appropriate and sensitive assistance be provided to all refugee women and children upon their arrival in Australia, including Bosnian women.

All this leaves me with a feeling of bitterness. I do not find it strange that women who were once peaceful and loving now become full of rage, anger and pain. Whatever is done now, and even if all our demands are fulfilled, Srebrenica has already happened. The only thing that the world can and should do at this point is to make sure that Srebrenica does not happen again anywhere.