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Wartime Sexual Violence in Bosnia: The Human Trafficking Connection


There are a few documented cases of the subsequent involvement of convicted war criminals in Bosnia in the trafficking of human beings.

Interestingly, judgments in cases for one type of offence do not mention the convictions for the other type of offence. This goes against courts’ standard practice, which is to list previous convictions in judgments, with their absence or presence acting as mitigating or aggravating factors when the sentence is decided.

For example, Stanko Savanovic, alias Geza, was arrested in 2003 as a member of a criminal gang led by Milivoje Zarubica, nicknamed Puja, who was described by media at the time as “the Balkan master of human trafficking”. Zarubica and his accomplices were recruiting women, mostly from Moldova, tricking them with attractive job offers that did not involve sex work and transferring them via Serbia to Italy, where they were forced into prostitution.

In Serbia, Zarubica and his gang were never convicted of trafficking because it had not been criminalised at the time of the offence. Instead, gang members got symbolic prison sentences for a variety of crimes, including facilitation of prostitution, rape, document forgery and depriving people of their liberty.

He then changed his surname from Savanovic to Kojic, and in 2010, found himself in detention in Bosnia. In 2012, the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina convicted him of involvement in the commission of genocide in Srebrenica when he was a member of the Bosnian Serb Army’s 10th Reconnaissance Division, along with co-defendants Franc Kos, Vlastimir Gorijan and Zoran Goronja.

In 2010, Sasa Lipovac was arrested in Georgia on his way to Moscow based on a request from the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina. He was travelling back from Azerbaijan, where he had spent a couple of years operating as a part of a group involved in trafficking for labour exploitation.

The victims were construction workers, some 700 of them, mainly from Bosnia, but also from Serbia and North Macedonia. In February 2017, following a plea agreement, the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina sentenced Lipovac to a year and nine months in prison.

The warrant for the arrest of Lipovac was issued in 2008 when he failed to appear before the Supreme Court in Banja Luka in second-instance proceedings relating to a war crime against Bosniak civilians in the village of Liskovac near Gradiska in northern Bosnia.

In August 1993, Lipovac, together with four other people, went to Liskovac and brutally killed three members of the Rizvanovic family, wounded a four-year-old and raped a 20-year-old woman several times. After that, the men shot the woman and her son in the head. For these crimes, the Supreme Court of Republika Srpska sentenced Lipovac to ten years and six months in prison.

Courts focus on sex, not violence


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