The full extent of the sexual violence during the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia and Herzegovina that shattered the lives of thousands of women across the country has still to be recognized by the Republika Srpska authorities which must to meet the needs of the survivors, Amnesty International says in a briefing paper published today (31 October 2012).
When everyone is silent: Reparation for survivors of war-time rape in Republika Srpska in Bosnia and Herzegovina, gives a snapshot of the situation today of women survivors of war-time rape and is part of the organisation’s ongoing project to get justice and reparation.
Since the start of the war Amnesty has collected numerous testimonies of women who were subjected to torture, including often systematic and repeated rape, sexual slavery, forced pregnancy and other crimes of sexual violence.
“The silence surrounding the war-time rape of women in Republika Srpska, an internationally recognised crime under international law, is deafening. Both the authorities and the media are ignoring the suffering of part of the population,” said John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International.
He continued: “Almost 20 years after the end of the conflict, the cruel failure to ensure justice for survivors of wartime sexual violence must at last be brought out of the shadows if the survivors themselves are to rebuild their lives and their families, communities and societies are to heal."
“Many of the survivors still struggle with the physical, emotional and social consequences of the crimes committed against them. Justice for survivors requires both the prosecution of perpetrators and the acknowledgement of – and resolve to redress – the continuing consequences of their abuse. The Republika Srpska authorities must move to meet these needs and work on de-stigmatizing war-time rape, so that survivors can be given the opportunity to speak out,” said Mr Dalhuisen.
Amnesty says that to its knowledge the authorities of Republika Srpska have never made a meaningful attempt to collect data on this population, to understand and quantify their problems, or to develop policies that would address their specific needs, nor have they tried to stimulate public discussion and break the silence surrounding the crimes committed against these women during the war.
Vinko Lale, president of the local association of camp inmates told the international human rights NGO: “Often, out of fear of stigma, these women don’t want to say they were raped, so they just say that they went through different types of torture. Maybe if they knew that breaking the silence would improve their lives, they would feel able to speak out.”
As a result of rape and other war related human rights abuses, many survivors have developed post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychological syndromes. They feel insecurity, shame, self-blame, depression, fragmented memories, lack of concentration, nightmares, flashbacks, anxiety or mistrust of other people.
“The authorities of Republika Srpska must for a start recognise, loud and clear, that rape and other forms of sexual violence were committed during the war. This will help create an atmosphere where public debate on this issue will thrive and survivors will feel confident to come forward, tell their stories and demand justice,” commented Amnesty's John Dalhuisen.
“The authorities must identify the number of survivors of war-time rape and look into their needs today. They must ensure that the public health system is well-equipped to provide the survivors with the necessary medical and psychological care,” he said.
The current Republika Srpska Law on the Protection of Civilian Victims of War guarantees special measures of social protection to people who suffered at least 60 per cent damage to their bodies as a result of torture, assault, rape, or other crimes committed in the course of the conflict provided applications were submitted until 2007.
However, this law has excluded a great many survivors of sexual violence one, because of the time limit, and, secondly, by not taking into account psychological harm - benefits provided under this law do not extend to psychological care.
“In order to provide to provide reparation to survivors of war-time rape, the Republika Srpska authorities must amend the Law on the Civilian Victims of War: firstly, by creating a separate category of survivors of rape and other forms of sexual violence which does not impose a percentage of bodily damage as the only criteria for granting the status; secondly, by re-opening the applications procedure,” Mr Dalhuisen declared.
Out of the tens of thousands of alleged crimes of sexual violence committed against women and girls during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, fewer than 40 cases have been prosecuted by either the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague, or by state and entity courts in the republic since 1995.
The central government of Bosnia and Herzegovina is developing a number of legislative and policy measures to ensure reparation for survivors of crimes under international law. These measures require implementation at the entity level including in Republika Srpska whose authorities must deliver reparations in order ensure the rights of survivors.