Still No Justice for Women Survivors of Wartime Rape in Bosnia and Herzegovina, finds Amnesty International

Press Release
March 30, 2012

Still No Justice for Women Survivors of Wartime Rape in Bosnia and Herzegovina, finds Amnesty International

Contact: Sharon Singh, ssingh@aiusa.org, 202-509-8194

(Washington, D.C.) -- It is time the government of Bosnia and Herzegovina enacted its 2010 commitment to ensure justice, truth and reparation for hundreds of survivors of wartime sexual violence, Amnesty International said in a briefing published today.

"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 that they need to rebuild their shattered lives," said Jezerca Tigani, Amnesty International's deputy director for Europe and Central Asia. "Meanwhile, most of the perpetrators go unpunished."

Amnesty International’s briefing, Old Crimes, Same Suffering: No Justice for Survivors of Wartime Rape in Northeast Bosnia and Herzegovina, focuses on the current situation for women survivors of wartime rape living in Tuzla Canton in the northeastern part of the country, which illustrates the problems survivors face in accessing their rights at the local level.

During the 1992-1995 war, Tuzla was considered a "safe haven" where thousands of victims of crimes of sexual violence committed by the Serbian armed forces fled. Many 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 Amnesty International, the government of Bosnia and Herzegovina finally committed itself to ensuring survivors' rights by undertaking to develop a “national program for women victims of sexual violence in conflict and beyond." Due to continuing political deadlock at the state level, however, the program has still not been finalized and adopted.

"The new government, formed at the end of 2011, has yet to show its willingness to adopt and implement the commitments made by its predecessor; this is an urgent priority," said Tigani. " 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."

Numerous crimes under international law, such as rape and other forms of torture, sexual slavery, enforced "disappearances" and arbitrary detention, were committed during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Survivors living in Tuzla told Amnesty International 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 the 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 in the Hague or by Bosnian domestic courts.

Amnesty International's 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.

"A lack of resources and expertise in local social welfare and health institutions has led to serious gaps and inconsistencies in the ways in which essential rehabilitation services are delivered to survivors of wartime sexual violence, with the effect of denying women their right to rehabilitation -- an essential part of reparation to which they are entitled," Tigani said.

"Survivors’ rights must be a priority for central and local authorities. Local institutions need resources and guidance from the central government to provide direct assistance to the women. So far, survivors have had to rely on the psycho-social and medical assistance from women's non-governmental organizations in Tuzla, whose commitment to delivering excellent and highly specialized care to women in the face of great challenges is remarkable."

"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? How much longer will the thousands of women survivors be told that they must wait for their rights to justice, truth and reparation?"

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.