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Whistleblower: True Tale Of Sex Trafficking, Modern Day Slavery, Deceit

by Tanya Domi on August 5, 2011

in Human Rights,International,Media,Tanya Domi

Post image for Whistleblower: True Tale Of Sex Trafficking, Modern Day Slavery, Deceit

 Tanya Domi lived and worked in Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1996-2000 to assist the country recover from war. During a research trip to Sarajevo in 2001 she broke the biggest story of her journalism career–a tale of  high crimes, deceit and exploitation. 

Ten years ago, I broke the story of my life from Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, about the riveting and courageous actions of American Kathryn Bolkovac, a UN human rights investigator who uncovered an extensive presence of human sex trafficking in post-war Bosnia and Herzegovina.  The trafficking was aided and abetted by UN police monitors, Bosnian police and government officials, high-level UN and State Department officials, including now retired U.S. Ambassador Jacques Paul Klein, who at the time was the highest ranking UN official in Bosnia and had the responsibility for overseeing the UN’s International Police Task Force.

My story was first published in Oslobodenje (“Liberation”), the oldest daily newspaper in the country, in  June, 2001 and with the Institute for War and Peace Reporting in July, 2001 — the first time human trafficking and prostitution graced the content of its important web pages.

Kathryn Bolkovac was demoted for doing her job by J. Michael Stiers, the Deputy Commissioner of the UN Police Task Force, which ultimately led to her firing delivered by Jamie Popwell, both DynCorp hires and seconded by the State Department.  DynCorp, a U.S. government subcontractor provides American employees to international missions throughout the world. DynCorp is also a multi-national military and security company, based in Virginia, was purchased in 2010 by the Cerberus Capital Management Company, located in New York City.

The film, “The Whistleblower,” starring Academy-award winner Rachel Weisz as Kathryn Bolkovac, opens in New York City and Los Angeles today and will be released in U.S. cities coast-to-coast on August 12. Being touted as a movie to watch and a potential Oscar contender, the feature thriller is directed by Larysa Kondracki, in her inaugural debut, who earned her M.F.A. in film from Columbia University. Rex Reed, luminary film critic, gives “The Whistleblower” a big boost in the latest edition of the New York Observer, writing the film “reveals a truth more chilling than fiction” and that it’s “rare to see a thriller with the patience to tell an important story and develop a three-dimensional character at the same time.”

Bolkovac with Vincent Couerderoy, IPTF Commissioner, 2001

Also cast is the indomitable actress Vanessa Redgrave, who portrays Madeleine Rees, a British human rights barrister and the former director of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Sarajevo.  Rees confronted Klein on Bolkovac’s illegal termination and called in reinforcements from her superior then–Mary Robinson, the High Commissioner and the former president of Ireland.  Rees, a heroine in her own right, stood up inside the UN system against Klein and his off-the-rails leadership, instigating an unprecedented investigation into the dealings of the Bosnian Mission.

This drama, inspired by events put in motion by Bolkovac’s penetrating investigations, will perhaps, once and for all, educate the U.S. public not only about the scourge of human trafficking, but an even more important message, according to Bolkovac, which she refers to as a “web of deceit” that was woven by a consortium of governments.

The UN, private companies and international actors that actively conspired and collaborated, as in the Bolkovac case, thwarting any effort to bring international contractors to justice for their criminal participation in trafficking the bodies of women and children for money and power.

Most of the men involved in these crimes, many of them Americans, if caught, were sent home, absent consequences and were not prosecuted for any crimes, despite the egregiously serious nature of the crimes, like enslavement, or selling women into illegal prostitution, which is a crime in Bosnia.  That did not matter. What mattered was getting Bolkovac to shut-down her investigations, which UN officials conspired to create a ruse, declaring Bolkovac to be “stressed-out and needing a break” and accused her of submitting falsified times sheets (later disproved by a London labor tribunal which unanimously upheld Bolkovac’s complaint that she was wrongly terminated), as the reason to send her packing when she abruptly left the country in April 2001, fearing for her life and future career as a police officer.

Bolkovac, a former Nebraska police officer, volunteered for duty in Bosnia to help get the country back on its feet, after three years of war that took place 1992-1995, marking the dissolution of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. During the Bosnian war 100,000 to 110,000 persons were killed. Sarajevo was placed under siege by the Bosnian Serb Army by foisting artillery guns on the hills surrounding a breathtaking city  in a valley that was built more than 600 years ago, joined with sniper nests who took target practice on innocent civilians, killing 10,000, including  more than 1,000 children, whose graves now encircle the 1984 Olympic Stadium, once the pride and joy of Yugoslavia. The siege of Sarajevo was the longest in the history of modern warfare.


While all wars are hideous, the most recent Balkan wars, in particular was characterized by the macabre specter of former friends and neighbors who turned on one another, resorted to rape, torture and the whole sale jailing of people, mostly Muslim, who were confined to concentration and rape camps, some executed and buried in mass graves, which continue to be excavated in the present, betraying the remains of bodies that have been moved two to three times by their guilty perpetrators.

The global changes that ensued while Yugoslavia came undone in combination with war, helped create a corrupt environment where crime could travel through porous borders and allowed human trafficking to flourish throughout the Balkans. Women from the poorest countries of the Former Soviet Union–Armenia, Moldova and Ukraine–were trafficked through Belgrade to Kosovo and into Eastern Bosnia, where NATO soldiers and international contractors, present in large numbers, helped themselves to the “prostitutes,” who had been falsely lured with the promises of good paying jobs.

The Bosnian episode of human trafficking uncovered by Bolkovac was confirmed by the prodigious work of former Human Rights Watch researcher, attorney Martina Vandenberg, who authored a report published in 2002 titled “Hopes Betrayed: Trafficking of Women and Girls to Post-Conflict Bosnia and Herzegovina for Forced Prostitution.”

As for DynCorp, although they were found guilty for Bolkovac’s unjustified and retaliatory termination by an unanimous London Labor Tribunal, they continue to publicly maintain, as recently as January 2011 that Bolkovac’s employment in Bosnia was terminated because she submitted falsified timesheets.  In an audacious email message sent to its employees in anticipation of the release of Bolkovac’s memoir about Bosnia, dated January 4, 2011 from Joe Kale, DynCorp International’s Chief Compliance Officer wrote:

“DI does not tolerate any form of retaliation against persons who raise good faith complaints…We strongly disagree with Ms. Bolkovac’s assertions surrounding the circumstances of her dismissal, and with a British employment tribunal that ruled in her favor in 2002. She was dismissed for falsifying timesheets and being absent from work without approval. Nonetheless, we do not plan to engage in a public debate over allegations made a decade ago. We feel that doing so would diminish the importance of the issue: that human trafficking is a serious crime that cannot be tolerated.”

Where are all these individuals now? Madeleine Rees is Secretary General of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, based in Geneva, Switzerland.

Martina Vandenberg continues to pursue bad guys via a robust pro-bono practice.  She is currently taking down wayward diplomats who illegally detain domestic workers. Vandenberg played an instrumental role during the past decade in successfully urging Congress to close the U.S. contractor loophole, that had previously not permitted prosecution under The Trafficking Victims Protection Act.  In recent years, U.S. Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL)  contributed new language that provides nearly universal jurisdiction for prosecution under of any U.S. national, permanent resident or an offender of any nationality present on U.S. territory under 18 U.S.C. 1596, considered a major advance. J. Michael Stiers continues to work internationally.

According to the Washington Post, Klein, who became the head of the UN Mission to Liberia, was terminated for an inappropriate relationship  with “Linda Fawaz, a 30-year-old Liberian American woman whose uncle headed a major timber company”. According to a UN report, “Fawaz (identified as “Local Woman”) accompanied Klein (described as “Senior Official”) to diplomatic functions and regularly traveled on U.N. aircraft in violation of organizational rules.”

Last month, retired U.S. Ambassador Thomas Miller, who represented the U.S. government in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the period that Bolkovac was fired, publicly  apologized to Bolkovac for the actions taken against her, during a public forum at the Brookings Institution.  Bolkovac now lives in Breda, The Netherlands with her domestic partner Jan van de Velde, who she met and fell in love with in Bosnia.  She no longer works as a police officer and is effectively barred from doing so as DynCorp controls all the international contracts for police to international missions.  Bolkovac would like to train police for international mission work, teach them how to conduct investigations into all crimes, including human trafficking.

Tanya L. Domi is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, who teaches about human rights in Eurasia and is a Harriman Institute affiliated faculty member. Prior to teaching at Columbia, Domi worked internationally for more than a decade on issues related to democratic transitional development, including political and media development, human rights, gender issues, sex trafficking, and media freedom.

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