NEWS 13 Mar 17

Bosnia Accused of Failing Wartime Rape Victims

Rights group Amnesty International slammed the authorities in Bosnia for failing to adopt laws that would help the country’s thousands of victims of wartime sexual assault.

Eleanor Rose
Photo: Brian Turner/Flickr.

Amnesty International complained to the United Nations on Monday about what it said was Bosnia and Herzegovina’s failure to address the longstanding legacy of sexual violence committed during the conflict of 1992 to 1995.

In a document submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Committee ahead of the committee’s review of Bosnia’s progress on civil and political rights, Amnesty highlighted the “deeply worrying … failure of Bosnian authorities to adopt and implement legal and policy framework in order to ensure full and effective access to justice, truth and reparation for victims”.

“More than two decades since the end of the armed conflict, authorities continue to fail survivors of sexual violence,” it said in the document.

It said that ongoing political strife in the country has blocked the adoption of legislation that would give survivors legal status and help them claim compensation.

Disability benefits to victims of war have not yet been harmonised across the country, which is organised into a complex system comprising two entities, a special district, and 10 cantons.

This means that survivors can be discriminated against at the entity level, while their help packages vary widely according to where they live, according to Amnesty.

The report particularly pinpointed authorities in the Bosnian Serb entity Republika Srpska for allegedly refusing to participate in the creation of a state-wide law that would solve such problems.

Instead Republika Srpska developed its own entity-level legislation that Amnesty rapped as being “overly restrictive”.

Despite some efforts by Bosnia’s Ministry for Human Rights and Refugees and Ministry of Justice, such as a state-level law for free legal aid that will help survivors of wartime sexual violence, the country still falls short of its international obligations, the report said.

It also pointed out that a Law on Rights of Victims of Torture, National Strategy for Transitional Justice and the Programme for Victims of Sexual Violence in Conflict have been prepared, but lack the requisite political support to be adopted.

Courts in Bosnia have recently begun to award financial damages to victims of wartime rape, but there is no state fund for compensation in case the perpetrators themselves cannot pay.

Amnesty urged the authorities to act to ensure justice for the victims.

“As long as the country lacks these systemic measures, survivors of wartime sexual violence will continue to be denied justice and fundamental protection to be able to successfully rebuild their lives,” the rights group said.

During Bosnia’s conflict of 1992 to 1995, thousands of women were raped as sexual violence was used as a tool for ethnic cleansing and spreading terror.

In a landmark verdict at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, ICTY, confirmed in 2002, judges found that one such “campaign of sexual abuse” and “sexual enslavement” that took place in the eastern municipality of Foca constituted a crime against humanity.

Estimates vary as to how many women were affected by wartime sexual violence in Bosnia, with the EU putting the number at 20,000 while experts linked to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees gave evidence of some 12,000 rapes.

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