Systemic Obstacles and Politics Deny Justice to Wartime Rape Survivors

According to Amnesty International, more than twenty thousand survivors of wartime sexual violence in Bosnia are still being denied justice: “More than two decades after the (Bosnian) war, tens of thousands of women in Bosnia are still piecing together their shattered lives with little access to the medical, psychological and financial assistance they desperately need,” said Gauri van Gulik, Amnesty International’s Deputy Europe Director.

“As each year passes, so does the prospect of ever attaining justice or receiving the support to which they are entitled. These women can not forget what happened to them and neither should we,” said Gulik about an AI report published on Tuesday.

Recent years have seen important improvements but there is still a great distance to travel

The report is based on research conducted over two years and reveals how systemic obstacles combined with a lack of political consensus have consigned a generation of survivors – raped during the 1992-1995 war – to penury and hardship. During the conflict thousands of women and girls were subjected to rape and other forms of sexual violence by military and paramilitary groups. Many were enslaved, tortured and even forcibly impregnated in so-called “rape camps”. Since war crimes trials began in Bosnia in 2004, less than 1% of the total estimated number of victims of war crimes of sexual violence have come to court. Courts across the country have completed only 123 cases involving sexual violence charges and although the number of prosecutions has increased in recent years, more must be done to ensure the perpetrators are brought to justice.

While there has been significant progress in witness protection and support, this could be undermined by high acquittal rates in several jurisdictions and often-reduced sentences for those convicted. Meanwhile the increase in the number of cases prosecuted cannot mask the huge backlog of cases.

Slow and inadequate justice has discouraged survivors from coming forward undermining confidence in the criminal justice system and generating an overwhelming sense of impunity.

“Recent years have seen important improvements but there is still a great distance to travel. Whilst the trauma of the past can never be unlived, it is not too late to ensure that the future of these women is one where their rights and their dignity can finally be reclaimed.”

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