A new book by Griffith Law School academic Dr Olivera Simic explores the silence surrounding women’s experiences of wartime sexual violence.
Silenced Victims of Wartime Sexual Violence (Routlege 2018) focuses on the harrowing experiences of Bosnian Serb women, where the collapse of the former Yugoslavia led to brutal war and gross human rights violations throughout the 1990s.
It draws attention to the hierarchies of victimhood, which are often created and reinforced by law itself.
“I hope to achieve a greater visibility and transparency of the problem of sexual violence in war, and emphasising that while this crime affects women in a similar way, not all women have been legally and symbolically recognised as victims,’’ Dr Simic says.
Based on personal experience, her research focuses on how people, women in particular, deal with past mass human rights abuses such as genocide, ethnic cleansing and rape during and after armed conflicts.
She was just 19 when war broke out in her country, Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992, and moved to Serbia to continue her education at the University of Nis Law School.
For three years, she lived in a refugee camp and studied law. Her graduation coincided with the NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999, which she experienced first-hand.
“My expertise is in the field of transitional justice which critically analyses judicial and non-judicial measures implemented in post-conflict/post-authoritarian regimes to redress legacies of human rights abuses,’’ Dr Simic says.
Transitional justice refers to the full range of processes and mechanisms associated with a society’s attempt to come to terms with a legacy of large-scale past abuses, to ensure accountability, serve justice and achieve reconciliation.
“I believe it’s important to document women’s experience. Women’s histories and experiences have been erased, marginalised, downplayed or ignored for a long time.
“If we do not document their histories we won’t be able to learn from their experiences. Women survivors of conflict-related sexual violence need to be acknowledged and compensated for the crimes they experienced.”