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  Europe
14 Years After the Bosnian War, Victims of Rape and Sexual Violence Are Still Waiting for Justice
By Shane Clarke
London Correspondent
Scars of the Bosnian War — The Bosnian War, also known as the War in Bosnia and Herzegovina, was an international armed conflict that took place from 1992 to 1995. The war involved several sides — Bosnia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (later Serbia and Montenegro) as well as Croatia.

Imagine someone committing a vile crime against you, a crime that still haunts you, that keeps you from sleeping at night and actually prevents you from living a normal life. Imagine having to see the perpetrator of that crime every day, going about his daily business as if nothing had happened, enjoying a full and happy life, while you are slowly dying inside.

For the victims of rape and sexual violence during the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, this is the reality.

“This nation forgets everything. They forget about us victims. But I will never forget about what happened to me,” said Sabiha, a victim of this outrage interviewed by Amnesty International in March 2009. “What was I guilty of when I was only 14 years old? What did I do to anybody? I was at the point of his knife and I prayed to God for him to kill me. The worst was when I was taken away from my father. I thought I would never come back alive. I saw how they bound my father’s hands with wire and how he could not help me. His tears remained in my memory forever and I will never forget this. And the soldiers. Their uniforms, their masks. All of this, I will never forget.”

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe estimates that 20,000 women, most of them Muslims, fell victim to crimes of rape and sexual violence during the 92-95 war.

“During the war, thousands of women and girls were raped, often with extreme brutality,” said Nicola Duckworth, director of Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia programme. “Many were held in prison camps, hotels, private houses where they were sexually exploited. Many women and girls were killed.”

According to Amnesty International, due to failure to properly investigate and prosecute these crimes, only a total of 30 men have been convicted for them.

“I do not know if it is possible to punish this crime. If justice exists at all? Maybe somewhere, but not here in Bosnia,” said Bakira, another victim interviewed by Amnesty International.

Under international law, the Bosnian government is obliged to bring the perpetrators to justice and make reparations to the victims. It is failing on both counts.

Many of these women face stigmatisation when they should be receiving help and support. They often live in the same community as their rapists, and are forced to watch them go about their daily lives with full impunity while they can’t even sleep because their dreams are haunted by the memories of gang rapes, and beatings, the tip of a knife being held to their throat, the despairing screams of another victim.

Many of these women suffer post-traumatic stress, as well as other psychological and physical problems. Their lives are shattered; they are forced to live on charity because they can’t cope with daily life.

Ms Duckworth said, “Many women who have survived sexual violence during the war cannot get any compensation due to the complex structures of the judicial and social welfare systems in the country. In comparison to other war victims, they suffer discrimination in access to social benefits.”

Due to the failure of authorities in Bosnia Herzegovina to provide victims with access to adequate healthcare or psychological support, this task is left to non-governmental organisations (NGOs) who work with limited resources.

“The authorities must work with NGOs in developing a comprehensive strategy to ensure that survivors receive reparations, including adequate pensions, assistance with access to work and the highest achievable standard of healthcare,” Ms Duckworth said. “The government should support survivors of war crimes of sexual violence, to give them a voice to demand their rights and combat the discrimination and stigmatisation they face in everyday life.”

Amnesty International has called upon Bosnia Herzegovina’s Parliament to extend the mandate of the international judges and prosecutors who have helped to build the country’s judiciary with their expertise, impartiality and experience.




Shane Clarke serves as London Correspondent for The Seoul Times. He has been involved in humanitarian work for numerous years. He’s also a freelance management consultant. Having completed an honors degree in Law at Wolverhampton University, he then moved on to an MBA at Warwick Business School. He’s heavily involved in the fight against international parental child abduction to Japan.

 

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