Transitional justice in feminist hands - the case of feminist activists in Serbia

This historic photo is from the workshop on feminist activism in the wartime in the former Yugoslavia.
Teaser Image Caption
This historic photo is from the workshop on feminist activism in the wartime in the former Yugoslavia.

Activists from the states of former Yugoslavia in making transitional justice – feminist accountability

Transitional justice in feminist hands - the case of feminist activists in Serbia active with the region:  opening public spaces for women’s testimonies, expressing sympathy with survivors in public to validate women’s truth, continuous networks of solidarity of activists across the borders, organising feminist based support for women survivors of sexual violence in wartime, and:  taking a responsibility to name one’s own criminal regime in places of pain where this regime has committed war crimes against ‘in our name’.

20 years ago:  the feminist activists

Feminist activists from Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina have been active in the process of making the content and language of the Platform of Action in the preparation of the Beijing Conference, precisely in the group of Armed conflict.  At this time there was a war in Europe between the nation-states from where these feminists of the former Yugoslavia came from.  Nationalist hatred led to killing of 120,000 citizens in total, as well as to committing sexual violence to many thousand women in the wars in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Kosovo (from 1991 to 2000).

On the conference Beijing NGO Forum in Hairo, feminist activists from all the states of the former Yugoslavia took this unique opportunity to be together. Indeed, to defy nationalist state policies, to deepen the solidarity and sisterhood, meeting every night during the 14 days, discussing, crying and singing together. This historic photo is from the workshop on feminist activism in the wartime in the former Yugoslavia. (photo is private collection of the author).

20 years ago:  the government

The government of Serbia and Montenegro was under UN Sanctions (1992-1995) for “…provoking and supporting aggression, ethnic cleansing and other atrocities in Bosnia and Herzegovina” and temporary suspended from the UN.[1] Therefore the Serbian government members did not attend the Beijing conference.

20 years later:  the government

The government of Serbia did not take the responsibility for the crimes committed in the war on the territory of the former Yugoslavia (for example, government pays monthly support fee for the prisoners accused and convicted by The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia - ICTY). In consequence, the government made no decisions toward transitional justice (unless as an exception). Moreover, it did not increase the power of women in the peace negotiations (with Kosovo) as foreseen in the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. The civil society has pressed the government to adopt the National Plan of Action for Adoption of Resolution 1325 (2010-2015) - but no budget was allocated to date.

20 years later:   the feminist activists  

Feminist activists in the region on the other hand have been inspired by the Beijing conference in many ways:

  • The historic framing of the theme Women and Armed Conflict gave visibility to activists working with women survivors of rape in war, the exiled and refugees[2].
  • Feminists counsellors, researchers, and activists in the Balkan region got together around the theme of women raped in war through an exchange group entitled Feminist List Against Rape in War in Countries of Former Yugoslavia (FLIPSUR). Some of them have been active in the making of historic laws for reparations for the survivors of sexual violence in wartime[3].
  • The anti-war and anti-fascist feminists from Women in Black Against War in Serbiadeveloped a feminist dimension of transitional justice participating on the places of pain in the neighbouring countries where the Serbian regime committed war crimes – to express sympathy with the victims by the statement “We are sorry for the crimes done in our name”. The experience shows that expressing shame and apologies creates new spaces of trust for a life in peace.

Feminists in the region spread their network through another form of transitional justice: Women’s Court - Feminist approach to justice. A vibrant process from 2010 to 2015 that involved activists from more than 100 women’s organisations, organizing more than 55 forums that gave space for more than 300 women survivors of war atrocities and post-war structural violence to speak out in public, yet safe spaces, in all the countries of the former Yugoslavia. Searching for yet another paradigm of justice that validates pain and strengthens feminist-pacifist alliances of the activists in the nation-states that were involved in war, meant opening a process of politics of location: activists recognising the crimes of ‘their own regimes’, especially those from Serbia.  The Women’s Court is one of the forms of active intervention of women: women’s truth and war experiences out in the public opinion.


[1] In September 1992, United Nations General Assembly Resolution A/RES/47/1 was adopted, by which it considered that "the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) cannot continue automatically the membership of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in the United Nations".  Republic of Serbia did not apply for membership until Slobodan Milošević was ousted from the presidency and was admitted on 1 November 2000.

[2] Autonomous Women’s Center, Belgrade, Serbia; Center for Women War Victims, Zagreb, Croatia;  Medica Zenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina  - three organisations that worked in support with women traumatized by war, collaborated during the wartime.

[3] Bosnia and Herzegovina: law in 2006, Kosovo: a Parliament resolution in 2014, Croatia: law ready for the parliament approval, 2015.