Subject: [Stop-traffic] News/Bosnia - Arizona Market: Woman for Sale
From: Jyothi Kanics (email@example.com)
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,
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
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
People who buy together don't die together.
The trick was finding a secure location where a physical market
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
goods, plus black market cigarettes, CDs and alcohol. Croats,
Bosnians came by their thousand.
Today you can still buy all of these things but the real business is
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
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
cross illegally into Serbia. Then it's on to Belgrade, where they are
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
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
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
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
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
Some brothels are like the ones in Arizona with names like
'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
Rights in Bosnia and the most senior UN figure fighting trafficking.
gathered her evidence from women's groups who worked with rape
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
'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 Ð the
predecessor of the Stabilisation Force, Sfor), and undoubtedly that
was one of the
While inexcusable, it is explicable why Bosnia became a
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
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.
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
themselves. Evidence includes:
a UN report, unpublished outside Bosnia, of 'compelling
complicity' of local and international police and Sfor in 14
four other cases, one involving Sfor and three the International
Force (IPTF), where men had trafficked women;
in one small IPTF base two officers admitted to us they
brothels where they knew trafficked women were held;
five IPTF officers were recently sent home for being caught in
a number of staff (unconfirmed reports say six) from the Office
Representative Ð the most senior UN body in Bosnia Ð were
caught in a brothel raid;
we saw, and filmed, European Union vehicles parked outside a
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
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
International Organisation for Migration (IOM) to start an education
aimed at Sfor troops. But an advertising campaign aimed at the
is hampered by lack of resources Ð 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
and are lucky enough to run to authorities that will not just return
her to her pimp Ð
as has often happened Ð 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
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
pimps Ð and there've only been a handful thus far Ð pimps will go
to great lengths
to get their 'property' back. Ten women in the past year have been
was found dead in the river, her mouth bound shut with tape from
for Security and Co-operation in Europe Ð many believe it was a
organised crime that they will not tolerate women speaking out.
The problems in
fighting trafficking are legion. Corruption is endemic; there is a
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
we must take it.
John McGhie leads the Channel 4 News investigations unit at Just
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
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