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'Whistleblower' Dirties Hands in Rebuilding Bosnia

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Kathryn Bolkovac joined private military contractor DynCorp in 1999 eager to support U.N. peace-building in Bosnia. Instead she found herself in the middle of a sex-trafficking ring. An excerpt from "The Whistleblower," also just released as a film.

Subhead: 
Kathryn Bolkovac joined private military contractor DynCorp in 1999 eager to support U.N. peace-building in Bosnia. Instead she found herself in the middle of a sex-trafficking ring. An excerpt from "The Whistleblower," also just released as a film.



(WOMENSENEWS)--We were set up in a hotel in the northern hills of Sarajevo, Bosnia. First thing the next morning, a bus wound us down the narrow, cobbled street into the city center for our weeklong orientation session.

We rolled down the main road, Boulevard Mese Selimovica, better known as Sniper Alley during the siege, when the Serbs held the entire capital city hostage. This street, the only way in and out of the city, was vulnerable to the row of high-rise buildings and hillside houses, where snipers would wait and peck off innocent civilians, especially children.

The scars in the concrete left by exploding shells had now been filled in with red resin that formed flowerlike shapes referred to as Sarajevo roses, in remembrance of the person who had been shot at that spot.

We arrived at a nondescript, aged U.N. building dubbed Tito Barracks, after the former leader of Yugoslavia, Josip Broz Tito, whose presidential term had spanned three decades. This was the training facility where the weeklong orientation for all new monitors arriving from U.N.-participating countries took place.

Surrounded by stone walls, barbed wire fence and armed guards perched in lookouts on the roof, Tito Barracks was not exactly the most welcoming place. Its yards were wild and overgrown, but on closer inspection, I saw this was not due to neglect--the wrangled, rusted metal rims of land mines were visible, poking through the ground. Because of this, designated walkways were cordoned off for us to enter and exit the building.

The sight of refugees around Sarajevo, old and young, hobbling around on one leg, was an immediate and consistent reminder that mines still infested the area. The mines had been hidden everywhere--from public squares to private gardens, where, in between the vegetables, they had been planted by the man of the house who would have rather had his home blown up than had it taken from him.

Melting Pot of Officers

At Tito Barracks we joined our new colleagues: the International Police Task Force (IPTF), a melting pot of nearly 2,000 civilian police officers from 45 U.N. countries. Despite the fact that we all came from dramatically different cultures and held startlingly different views on policing, we all cheerily donned our berets and our IPTF uniforms with the U.N. badge on one shoulder and the flag of our home country on the other.

DynCorp rotated out officers approximately every six months, or as positions opened up on an as-needed basis. I was encouraged by the caliber of some Americans I met, and I struck up conversations with several men and women who had backgrounds and educational levels similar to mine (even though I had left school to get married, I went to the University of Nebraska and took other college courses while working as a police officer). Because they had already been in Bosnia for up to several months, they were eager to answer questions and give advice, and they all echoed a similar sentiment: The best jobs in the mission were basically desk jobs, with easy, routine work that kept your weekends open for travel through Europe.

I was all for travel and having fun, but I could not see myself spending the next year pushing paper. I wanted to have an active presence and work with the locals on building democracy and effective policing institutions. The truth was, I wanted to make a difference. But each time I explained this, I was met with the same general response: The less you become involved in trying to solve major issues, the happier you will be.

A couple of people suggested that if I was really interested in hands-on work while I was there, I should apply to the human rights division. It was never far from my mind that I gave up a good career in law enforcement to come here, so I submitted my request to the IPTF evaluation committee to work in human rights.

Becoming a Human Rights Investigator

I was required to make a presentation on an area of my choosing within the field. Standing before the two-man panel, I presented on sexual assault investigation and methods of evidence collection. About 30 seconds in, and coinciding with my use of the word "vaginal," the men turned red. As I described plucking pubic hairs from the suspect and the importance of documenting specific findings from the victim's medical examination, such as whether the hymen was intact if the victim was a child, I watched both men deepen in color and become fidgety.

They could not have been more relieved when I concluded my presentation. They quickly conferred with whispers and nods and then scribbled something on my evaluation sheet and handed it to me. They had written: "A++."

I looked back to the two flushed men; they nodded hurriedly, motioning me to the door. I was now a human rights investigator.

Next I had to be recruited to a specific IPTF station somewhere in Bosnia that was in need of a human rights investigator. This recruiting practice was about as comprehensive as college sorority or fraternity rush, and it was also my first dose, on Bosnian soil, of the anything-goes attitude. During breaks from our classes, as we mingled in the halls, I felt like fresh meat being scrutinized by hundreds of monitors--mostly men--who had already completed half their mission time. It was all too obvious that the few of us women were the most sought-after recruits.

"I heard you're from Nebraska. What a small world, I am too!" a man named Harry said as he pumped my hand. He told me he was the deputy station commander in Ilidza, a western suburb of Sarajevo, and that he was about to be moved up to commander. He stressed that he really wanted me to come work in his station, which, he informed me, had the best parties in the mission.

Parties were not exactly on my list of criteria in choosing a station. "We'll see," I answered, and stepped back to watch as Harry went on to make the rounds with all the other new female monitors.

At the end of the week, the notification came that I was assigned to the Ilida station, where we would have the privilege of partaking in the best parties in the mission.

From "The Whistleblower" by Kathryn Bolkovac with Cari Lynn. Copyright 2010 by the authors and reprinted by permission of Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd.

Kathryn Bolkovac is a former police investigator from Nebraska who served as an International Police Task Force human rights investigator in Bosnia. She cooperated with Human Rights Watch to expose the misconduct and human rights abuses committed against young girls, forced into prostitution and used as sex slaves by U.S. military contractors and other UN-related police and international organizations. Cari Lynn is the author of three books of narrative nonfiction, including "Leg the Spread: A Woman's Adventures Inside the Trillion-Dollar Boys Club of Commodities Trading." Lynn has written for numerous magazines and newspapers, including O, Health, Good Housekeeping and the Chicago Tribune.

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