Today marks the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, proclaimed in 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly due to the scale of this crime across the globe. This not only concerns countries undergoing conflict, but also those struggling with the legacy of past violence as the consequences of such crimes are permanent for survivors and society.
The scale of this hideous crime during the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina prompted the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia to recognize sexual violence as a weapon of war and ethnic cleansing. Sexual violence mainly targeted women and girls, but also men and boys.
It is estimated that more than 20,000 women, girls, men and boys were subjected to sexual violence and the number is likely much higher. As for all conflicts, we will never know the exact number of victims – some were killed and many survivors would never speak due to the trauma and stigmatization.
Some towns in Bosnia and Herzegovina are gruesomely associated with systematic, mass sexual violence. It is incomprehensible that survivors continue to still be ignored, dehumanized, and stigmatized, while war criminals continue to be glorified. Authorities at all levels must pay tribute to the memory of victims and to survivors but also ensure reparations.
United Nations human rights treaty bodies have issued recommendations to the State of Bosnia and Herzegovina to ensure access to justice and reparations for victims of sexual violence perpetrated during the conflict. These include the Committee against Torture the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, the Human Rights Committee, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Yet, almost thirty years after the end of the conflict, the majority of survivors have not obtained justice and reparation and continue to live with the physical and psychological consequences of the unspeakable crimes they suffered. Children born out of rape committed during the conflict have also been experiencing stigmatization and a whole range of obstacles.
As noted by the United Nations Secretary-General in his last report to the Security Council on conflict-related sexual violence, insufficient progress has been made in issuing reparations.Survivors who have sought justice have faced inconceivable ordeals. It is unacceptable that those who initiated civil proceedings in order to receive compensation in the Republika Srpska entity are ordered to pay court fees if they lose their cases, and that this involves seizing their assets, including social benefits.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparations and guarantees of non-recurrence, Mr. Fabian Salvioli, expressed concern that this situation prolongs the stigmatization and economic marginalization of survivors .
As Bosnia and Herzegovina marks its 30th year as the United Nations Member State, all relevant authorities must ensure reparation and rehabilitation for survivors of sexual violence perpetrated during the conflict and children born out of rape during that period. This is essential for a society to heal.