Earlier this year, two CVT colleagues and I visited the
city of Tuzla in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). We
were there to meet with representatives of Vive Zene, a torture treatment
center that is now a partner in the CVT Partners in Trauma Healing (PATH) project.The goal of PATH is to strengthen the clinical, monitoring and evaluation, and
organizational capacity of ten torture treatment centers around the world.
Fundamentally, the project is about providing the best possible torture
Looking acrss the Sava River into Croatia where two hangars were used as concentration camps during the Bosnian War.
On a day-trip to the Brčko District, a town in northern
BiH, we visited the Association of Bosniak Concentration Camp Survivors in
Brčko District. The president of the association spoke with an intensity I’ve
seen only in people who have been in face-to-face battles around the world. He
spoke of his two years in concentration camps in Brčko, never breaking eye
contact with me.
After lunch in a nearby restaurant, we went out to a patio overlooking the Sava
River and into Croatia. The
president of the association pointed to two hangars on the right across the
street and described its history as a concentration camp where he had been held,
the many people who entered through those doors, and the shocking number of
those who didn’t leave alive.
While walking through the city, he pointed to buildings
and told of the horrors that had occurred there. In his office, two walls were
nearly covered with pictures of people who had survived the camps. Their faces
had the solemn gazes of people who have been to hell and back. In the corner of
the room were pictures of a mass grave being unearthed by a front-end loader,
the kind of tractor used to clear snow from a rural road. Bodies on top of
bodies, limbs lifelessly splayed this way and that, dressed in the clothes they
wore on their final day.
He and his colleague showed us photograph after photograph
of those who are believed to be responsible for the planning and the
executions. Some still live in the community. Like the buildings, seeing them
is a daily reminder of what was lost. And a daily doubt about what was gained.
His stories are personal and nearly impossible to imagine,
were I not already all-too-familiar with the inhumanity of torture. I was moved
by his persistence in documenting the experiences of victims and survivors. People
like him have experienced the worst of humanity, but are deeply committed to a
better future. It is rewarding to be a part of the work that Vive Zene is doing
to heal survivors of the war in Bosnia.
It is a privilege and honor to work with so many skilled, courageous, and
passionate human rights colleagues around the world. And it’s a pleasure to
share this experience with you.
In addition to her work at CVT, Kristi
Rendahl is a columnist for the Armenian Weekly. You can read
online about her visit to Bosnia and other countries.
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