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Bosnia and Herzegovina must ensure justice for women survivors of war

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Alison Clarke
WVoN co-editor 

Twenty years after the start of the conflict, the government of Bosnia and Herzegovina must honour its 2010 commitment to ensure justice, truth and reparation for hundreds of survivors of wartime sexual violence, Amnesty International (AI) has said in a briefing published today.

Its Europe and Central Asia Deputy Programme Director, Jezerca Tigani explained:

“Nearly two decades after the end of the war, hundreds of women continue to live with the effects of rape and other forms of torture, without proper access to the medical, psychological and financial assistance they need to rebuild their shattered lives. Meanwhile, most of the perpetrators go unpunished.”

Amnesty International’s briefing, “Old Crimes, Same Suffering: No justice for survivors of wartime rape in north-east Bosnia and Herzegovina”, focuses on the current situation of the women survivors of wartime rape living in Tuzla Canton in the north-eastern part of the country.

During the 1992-1995 war, numerous crimes under international law, such as rape and other forms of torture, sexual slavery, enforced disappearance and arbitrary detention were committed in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Tuzla was considered a “safe haven”, where thousands of victims of crimes of sexual violence committed by the Serbian armed forces fled.

Many victims remained there after the conflict, as they were unable or unwilling to return to their homes in the now Serb-dominated Republika Srpska.

Only two years ago, following years of extensive pressure by local and international civil society groups, including AI, the government of Bosnia and Herzegovina finally committed agreed to develop a “National programme for women victims of sexual violence in conflict and beyond”.

Due to continuing political deadlock at state level the programme has still not been finalised and adopted.

Tigani added:

“The new government, formed at the end of 2011, has still to show its willingness to adopt and implement the commitments made by its predecessor. This is an urgent priority.

“High-level politicians, especially those in Republika Srpska, must acknowledge the fact that crimes of sexual violence were committed on a massive scale during the war.

“It took more than a decade for the Bosnian authorities to acknowledge their international obligations to wartime rape survivors.

“How long will it take them to overcome political deadlock and disagreement over the division of competencies between the state and local government to implement their commitments?

“How much longer will the thousands of women survivors be told they must wait for their rights to justice, truth and reparation.”

Survivors living in Tuzla told Amnesty of the serious physical and psychological problems they continue to suffer, including post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, sexually transmitted diseases, diabetes, hypertension and insomnia.

Very few have health insurance adequate to address their specific medical conditions, which limits their access to the health services they desperately need, and most are unable to pay for all the medication they require.

None of the direct perpetrators of the crimes against the survivors interviewed during the research has been brought to justice.

Of tens of thousands of documented cases of crimes of sexual violence committed during the war, fewer than 40 have been prosecuted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague or by Bosnian domestic courts.

The briefing highlights the fact that the complex, multi-layered and under-resourced Bosnian judicial system obstructs the progress of criminal trials, denying survivors their right to justice.

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