News 14 Feb 13

Bosnian Torture Victims Demand Rights Law

Eighteen years after the war, the Bosnian authorities must adopt an umbrella law that will provide basic rights for some 200,000 people who were tortured, victims’ groups insist.

Denis Dzidic
Torture victims' conference in Sarajevo /Photo by BIRN

Victims’ groups told media in Sarajevo on Thursday that they had drafted the rights law and hoped that it would get parliamentary consideration this year.

The proposed legislation would set up a legal framework to ensure that torture victims could exercise their rights in any part of Bosnia, the Association of Prison Camp Detainees of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Vive Women association from Tuzla told the press conference.

Association of Prison Camp Detainees representative Jasmin Meskovic said that the key task for the legislation was to establish the exact number of prison camps and the amount of detainees during the 1992-95 conflict in order to end the manipulation of statistics for political gain.

“We want the term and status of camp detainee to be defined. We want welfare, healthcare for victims, free legal aid, the right to rehabilitation, disability status, and very importantly, memorialisation at the places of detention to be allowed,” explained Meskovic.

Meskovic said it was a “trauma to get a permit” from some local authorities so that victims could hold commemorations.

He added that the law should define reparations for torture victims, but also that he was aware that in the current economic situation, Bosnia cannot afford large payouts.

“We do not expect this to be payable tomorrow. We are aware that the state cannot manage – Germany is still paying reparations for World War Two. We want the camp detainee and victim’s status to be recognised for future generations,” he said.

Meskovic said that the lack of legislation on torture victims’ rights resulted in large number of former camp detainees opting to sue Bosnia’s state entities, which will ultimately incur huge costs for the state.

President of the Croatian Association of Camp Detainees from Central Bosnia, Andjelko Kvesic, said that over 50,000 citizens had supported the proposed law on torture victims’ rights by signing a petition.

“We gave a part of our souls to the state, we ask for a part of our honour back, and they will give us a part of our honour only if they determine our status, because in Bosnia and Herzegovina there is still not one unified definition of what is a camp detainee and what are their rights,” added Kvesic.

Dragisa Andric, president of the Visegrad camp detainee associations, said that he was encouraged by the fact that the Ministry of Labour and Veterans’ Rights in Bosnia’s Serb-run Republika Srpska entity had announced the signing of a law on camp detainees this year, but added that torture victims in the entity still face a difficult situation.

“In Republika Srpska, the additional problem is that female victims of sexual violence live in the dark, in pain, suffer a great deal and are not recognised by the authorities, their environment or even family,” said Andric.

The pesident of the Vive Women association, Jasna Zecevic, emphasised that the authorities in Bosnia “politicised the trauma”, which is why Bosnia still lacks an umbrella law.

“If the law does not come through, what our network plans is to wait for the response from those in charge of taking care of us and after that we will seek our rights from the international community with all available means and influence,” said Zecevic.

The legislation was drafted as part of a joint project entitled ‘Network – Together Against Torture’.

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