Death threats have become a daily routine for Serbian human-rights activist Natasa Kandic. For 15 years she has doggedly protested the torture, rape, and murder committed by warring factions in the conflict that devastated the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. Kandic has earned the hatred of fellow Serbs and military leaders throughout the region -- and won the admiration of human-rights defenders worldwide. "We are slowly forcing the governments to stop denying, to stop covering up," says the 58-year-old.
It's been a long struggle. Many of Kandic's friends fled the country during the war, but the sociologist stayed put. Building on her years spent working at a Belgrade trade union, Kandic founded the Humanitarian Law Center in 1992. She eventually recruited a staff of 70 lawyers, who document the atrocities committed during the Balkan war. Kandic's goal is to press the region's governments to shoulder their responsibility and bring war criminals to justice. Her benefactors include George Soros' Open Society Institute.
Today Kandic's bravery and hard work are starting to bear fruit. Despite the halting progress of the trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, dozens of others have either been convicted or are facing trial in The Hague and in the regional courts of the former Yugoslavia. They include Serbian militants accused of murdering several hundred Croats in the town of Vukovar in November, 1991. "Nobody in the Balkans has done more to ensure that the many victims on all sides of the conflicts have a voice," says Hans Holthuis, Registrar at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
Kandic and her supporters see no reason to let up. Some of the Balkans' most wanted men remain free, including former Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic. The two, who allegedly ordered the slaughter of 7,000 captured Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica, have refused to surrender to The Hague. With the 10-year anniversary of the massacre approaching in July, however, Kandic believes that international pressure will lead soon to their capture.
Kandic prefers not to dwell on her successes. "None of us managed to stop the killings," she says. That may be, but she has had a big hand in helping bring those killers to justice.
By Rachel Tiplady