Pursuit of War Criminal Fostered Positive, Yet Unintended, Consequences
By Chris Simmons
Monika Simonović was a Serb guard at Brcko’s (pronounced “Birch-koo) notorious Luka detention camp in northeastern Bosnia. Reportedly just 18 year’s old when she first began handling the Croat and Muslim prisoners, her barbaric behavior quickly earned her the moniker, the “Female Monster.” Many people said she looked like a little girl, but witnesses provided evidence that in 1992, she participated in some of the worst atrocities of the war.
In Bosnia as a peace-keeper, I was the Collections Chief for NATO’s intelligence battalion. I ran the alliance’s “Human Intelligence” efforts, gathering information from over 200 “sources” living throughout Bosnia and Croatia. Our collection requirements were diverse: refugee issues, Persons Indicted For War Crimes (PIFWCs) (i.e., war criminals), demilitarization of the former combatants, corruption, terrorism, etc.
Our holdings on Simonović were extensive and the information so graphic and disturbing that no one ever read her entire case file without stopping to emotionally regroup. From 1992-1995, she was renowned for routinely beating prisoners with fire hoses and batons. However, Simonović was best known for her more horrific crimes, to include slicing open a man’s stomach with a broken beer bottle and dissecting a pregnant woman to remove her fetus.
Unindicted for some inexplicable reason, I nonetheless made the unilateral decision to hunt her down. Tagging her with the nickname “Bad Monika,” I assigned our Tuzla-based intelligence collectors with the lead on this mission, a tasking they enthusiastically embraced.
The first and only unindicted war criminal we actively pursued, Simonović had earned herself a long and distinguished list of enemies. As word spread throughout our source network, information quickly began to flow in. Several weeks into the nationwide chase, we were just 30-minutes behind her. Afraid for the first time in her life,” she used every available resource to elude capture. In a heartbreaking turn of events, “Bad Monika” vanished into thin air.
Despite her escape, our pursuit of Simonović triggered a series of welcome, but unexpected and unintended consequences. As our hunt intensified, rumors spread throughout Bosnia and Croatia about the existence of a “Secret” PIFWC list. The logic behind the rumor was that since NATO had never previously pursued unindicted war criminals, clearly there had to be two rosters – one public list and a newly-established secret one. Additionally, NATO declined to refute the existence of a “Secret” list, leading both the general public and war criminals throughout the region to see it as confirmation.
The quality and quantity of reporting on all major war criminals soared, causing further panic among these criminals. Some fled to other countries, while others went deeper into hiding. Regardless, the previously public existence of these individuals ended, creating the public perception that the nation was another step closer to a lasting peace. And thus, the sense of stability deepened throughout the nation.
Note: Monika Simonović evaded justice for another 11 years, apparently living for much of that time in neighboring Serbia under a false name. On December 20, 2011, police officials found and arrested her in the northwestern city of Prijedor, Bosnia. Her husband, Goran Jelisic, with whom she worked at the Luka camp, had been sentenced to 40 years in jail by the U.N. war crimes tribunal in 2001. Likewise, her brother, Konstantin, who commanded the camp, had also been previously arrested and incarcerated.