[Stop-traffic] News/Bosnia - Arizona Market: Woman for Sale

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Subject: [Stop-traffic] News/Bosnia - Arizona Market: Woman for Sale
From: Jyothi Kanics (jyothi@odihr.osce.waw.pl)
Date: Wed Aug 23 2000 - 09:30:33 EDT

Woman for Sale

  The selling of women into prostitution has been growing across
  during the past decade, but rather than solve the problem the
  community has become complicit with the traffickers in Bosnia,
  John McGhie.

  Two years ago an American general serving with the United
Nations contingent in
  Bosnia had a bright idea. The armed struggle between Serbs,
Croats and Bosnians
  had ended but the peace was distinctly fragile. Tension between
ethnic groups ran
  high and no one trusted their neighbours unless they'd fought
alongside them
  during a civil war that had killed 250,000 and made refugees out of
a million more.

  So how to get them together? Well, free trade of course. If the
great engine of
  capitalism could be harnessed, people would have to learn to trust
one another.
  People who buy together don't die together.

  The trick was finding a secure location where a physical market
could be
  constructed. The general, whose name now eludes the military,
solved this by
  clearing a strip of land outside Brcko in North-west Bosnia, near
the frontier with
  Serbia and Croatia. With his troops ringing the area to check for
guns, a market
  was born and traders moved in.

  They called it Arizona. For a while it flourished. Stalls sold the
usual household
  goods, plus black market cigarettes, CDs and alcohol. Croats,
Serbs and
  Bosnians came by their thousand.

  Today you can still buy all of these things but the real business is
done behind
  closed doors. Organised crime has taken over the market. Cars
stolen to order,
  drugs, medicines and guns are all on the shopping list. But the
most serious trade
  is in people.

  For Arizona has simply become the biggest slave market in
Europe. Its here that
  the former warlords turned crime bosses of the fledgling Bosnian
state buy and sell
  women. Most of these women left their homes in Eastern Europe
in the belief they
  would become waitresses or nannies in Italy or France. But if they
have not already
  been forced into prostitution by the time they reach Arizona, they
soon will be.

  The route into the country is always similar. The women answer
job adverts in local
  newspapers in the poorer, usually rural, areas of their homelands.
They meet with
  men from an agency who promise to accompany them and ease
their passage
  across borders. Wherever their starting point, the women first
enter Hungary or
  Rumania. There they are tricked into handing over their passports
under the ruse
  that the men require them to process their visa applications. From
Hungary they
  cross illegally into Serbia. Then it's on to Belgrade, where they are
swiftly and
  brutally disabused of any notions of waitressing.

  It's at this stage that they receive some of the worst treatment.
Women are told it's
  prostitution or a beating, or death. Some are beaten anyway and
others are raped
  before being sold to a cafe or bar owner. This man will 'employ'
them for a few
  months before selling them on to other gangs. These new owners
transport the
  women in small trucks or cars to the border with Bosnia. Here
they usually cross
  the rivers that mark the frontier by night in small boats.

  In a deeply ugly trade, the women are sold at Arizona and a
couple of other major
  transit posts inside Bosnia. International police based in Brcko
said women are
  often put on stage in a backroom bar, pirouetting in different
costumes while buyers
  inspect their flesh and look into the women's mouths before
making a bid. The
  more attractive ones fetch DM2,000-DM4,000 (650-1,300).

  Some women stay at Arizona, servicing the cross border shoppers
and local
  policemen at a dozen or so 'night clubs' that infest the market. The
rest will be
  taken to cafes and brothels all over the country.

  There, the 'clients' will include Bosnian men, but, more
significantly, they will also
  be forced to service the vast numbers of foreigners who make up
the international
  peacekeeping and reconstruction forces.

  For the appalling truth is that the Bosnian slave markets are
propped up and
  abused by the very people who are meant to be helping protect
and rebuild the
  country. It is a shaming fact that in a country that saw the full
horrors of civil war,
  some of the worst human rights violations are today being
perpetrated by the
  international community.

  Nobody knows exactly how many women have been trafficked into
Bosnia. At the
  beginning of June the estimate was 4,000-20,000 women. Brothels
are endemic.
  Some brothels are like the ones in Arizona with names like
'Acapulco' and
  'Romanca'. Others are simply roadside cafes where the owner
keeps a couple of
  women for passing trade.

  Madeleine Rees is the head of office of the UN High Commissioner
for Human
  Rights in Bosnia and the most senior UN figure fighting trafficking.
She first
  gathered her evidence from women's groups who worked with rape
victims during
  the war. They noticed a change in prostitution from about 1993.
Prior to that there
  were some local women, but afterwards it was almost exclusively
women from
  Eastern Europe.

  'If you look at the patterns of trafficking world-wide, essentially you
only get it where
  you're going to have a market,' says Rees. 'It's a demand-led
thing, and basically in
  1993 we had the presence of Unprofor (UN Protection Force the
  predecessor of the Stabilisation Force, Sfor), and undoubtedly that
was one of the
  pull factors.'

  While inexcusable, it is explicable why Bosnia became a
trafficking destination.
  There were reports of soldiers visiting brothels on a regular basis.
But the war is
  now over and yet the international community is still deeply
implicated in
  trafficking. Rees is not the only UN figure to admit it, but given the
politics of the
  UN she is taking a risk in so doing.

  'The presence of the international community creates the market.
Not everybody
  who is here goes and uses trafficked women for sex, but some do.
And some care
  not at all whether they are voluntarily working as prostitutes or
whether they have
  been forced into it. And then they are part of the problem,' she

  And it is not just the soldiers of Sfor who are to blame. Both UN
personnel and staff
  from the 400 or so non-governmental organisations in Bosnia
either use the
  trafficked women or, in a significant minority of cases, are actually
the traffickers
  themselves. Evidence includes:

       a UN report, unpublished outside Bosnia, of 'compelling
evidence of
       complicity' of local and international police and Sfor in 14
       four other cases, one involving Sfor and three the International
Police Task
       Force (IPTF), where men had trafficked women;
       in one small IPTF base two officers admitted to us they
regularly visited
       brothels where they knew trafficked women were held;
       five IPTF officers were recently sent home for being caught in
raids on
       a number of staff (unconfirmed reports say six) from the Office
of High
       Representative the most senior UN body in Bosnia were
also recently
       caught in a brothel raid;
       we saw, and filmed, European Union vehicles parked outside a
well known
       Sarajevo brothel, and saw UN vehicles outside other brothels;
       we secretly filmed a senior US member of the international
community in a
       brothel boasting about how easy it was to buy a woman 'as

  It is chillingly clear much of the international community in Bosnia
has a culture of
  using prostitutes. The feeling is that if the women are trafficked,
well, they probably
  want to be there, and many of them look happy enough and if they
get their money,
  what's the fuss about?

  A local woman living near a brothel used by a British IPTF officer
said she'd seen
  women coming out in tears after apparently being beaten up. And
when we visited
  the same brothel we saw one girl, who said she was 18 but looked
much younger,
  who made it absolutely clear she wanted to get out. We told both
the local and
  international police about the place but as far as I am aware the
brothel is still in
  operation and that young girl is still being held there against her

  The official response to all this is that whenever men are caught in
a brothel they
  are sent home. But this is a reactive response and as such is
  inadequate. Apart from one or two anti-traffickers there is little
sense that this is a
  major issue. And if the UN chiefs know what is going on, there is
hardly a feeling of
  urgency in combating it.

  However, there are some signs of progress. Rees has teamed up
with the
  International Organisation for Migration (IOM) to start an education
  aimed at Sfor troops. But an advertising campaign aimed at the
women themselves
  is hampered by lack of resources there's not even enough cash
to staff a hot-line
  for women in trouble.

  One success in a sea of despair is the safe house system. When
women escape
  and are lucky enough to run to authorities that will not just return
her to her pimp
  as has often happened they are sent to Sarajevo. There they are
looked after by
  Frederick Larsson of the IOM. There is finally money for an official
safe house but
  until now escapees have been despatched to different addresses
around the
  Bosnian capital in a kind of unofficial 'Underground Railroad'. While
they are in
  these safe houses the women are counselled and the paperwork
is prepared to
  send them home. So far only 67 have made it back.

  It is dangerous work. Now that proper efforts are being made to try
and prosecute
  pimps and there've only been a handful thus far pimps will go
to great lengths
  to get their 'property' back. Ten women in the past year have been
murdered. One
  was found dead in the river, her mouth bound shut with tape from
the Organisation
  for Security and Co-operation in Europe many believe it was a
signal from
  organised crime that they will not tolerate women speaking out.
The problems in
  fighting trafficking are legion. Corruption is endemic; there is a
prevailing culture
  where it is all right to visit brothels and most local police are
unwilling to tackle the
  'low priority' problem.

  For people like Larsson and Rees it's a hugely frustrating struggle.
'I find this one of
  the most disgusting areas to have to work in,' says Rees. 'The
impunity with which
  men will use women in this way and the idea that no one is really
  responsibility for it or dealing with it should cause international
outrage.' It is now
  abundantly clear that the international community is part of the
problem, and we
  must stop it from behaving like this.

  This is not some issue in a far away country over which we have
no sway. It is in
  the middle of Europe and the international presence there is our
responsibility. So
  we must take it.

  John McGhie leads the Channel 4 News investigations unit at Just
TV. This
  article is based on an report broadcast on 8 June 2000

  Also published this month in Red Pepper: The One That Got
Away; John McGhie
  interviews one woman who escaped from her pimp at Arizona, and
Sex Slavery is
  Spreading Fast; Simon Bebbington on the traffic that is reaching
our shores.
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