A Bosnian Muslim former soldier on Monday became the first woman to be convicted of war crimes by a local court after admitting killing Croat civilians and prisoners during the 1990s war.
“Rasema Handanovic participated with other members of her unit in the executions of three civilians and three soldiers … The tribunal sentences her to five-and-a-half years in jail,” war crimes court judge Jasmina Kosovic said.
The verdict is the first of its kind by the Bosnian war crimes court which has only indicted three women on charges stemming from the 1992-95 inter-ethnic war so far.
The crimes were committed on April 16, 1993, in the village of Trusina, in southern Bosnia. A total of 18 Croat civilians and four prisoners of war were killed at the time.
Handanovic pleaded guilty last week and agreed to testify against other former members of her unit under a plea bargaining agreement, which saw her get a lighter sentence of just five and a half years.
“I committed a crime, but at the time I did not know that it was a crime,” Handanovic, who was 21 when she took part in the killings, told the court as she entered her guilty plea last Friday.
Her lawyer emphasized that she herself had also been a victim of war crimes at the start of the bloody conflict in Bosnia.
“She was raped by Serb soldiers, while her partner and other family members were killed,” lawyer Senad Kreho told AFP.
After the war she emigrated to the United States and holds both US and Bosnian passports. The 39-year-old was extradited to Bosnia in December.
Handanovic was a member of the Zulfikar special unit, which was under the direct control of the Muslim-led Bosnian army headquarters.
In March and April, Handanovic already appeared as a witness at the trial against her former fellow-fighters. She gave a detailed description of the executions of the six people she participated in and confirmed that other suspects also took part.
Six other members of the unit are currently on trial before local courts for their role in the Trusina killings.
Although allies against the Serbs during most of Bosnia’s war, the country’s Muslims and Croats fought against each other for 11 months in 1993 and 1994.
Two other women are currently on trial before Bosnia’s war crimes court in Sarajevo. Both Albina Terzic, 40, and Marina Grubisc-Fejzic, 44, are former members of Croat forces.
Last December, police detained a Bosnian Serb woman suspected of taking part in the torture of Croat and Muslim prisoners held in a detention camp in Brcko, in northeastern Bosnia.
Monika Simonovic, 37, has not been officially indicted yet.
The first and only woman ever to be convicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) is former Bosnian Serb president Biljana Plavsic.
The now 81-year-old pleaded guilty to crimes against humanity and was sentenced to 11 years in jail. She was granted an early release in 2009 and now lives out her days in Belgrade.
In Serbia, a local court in 2009 sentenced Nada Kalaba to nine years in jail for taking part in the 1991 massacre in the eastern Croatian town of Vukovar.
The 1992-1995 Bosnian conflict claimed some 100,000 lives.
[Bosnian Muslim women search for their relatives’ remains among over twenty coffins prior to a funeral ceremony held in the eastern Bosnian town of Vlasenica last week. AFP Photo/Elvis Barukcic]