Successive governments of Bosnia and Herzegovina have failed to provide justice for thousands of women and girls who were raped during the 1992-1995 war, a new Amnesty International report reveals.
Launched at a press conference in Sarajevo, Amnesty's 82-page report, 'Whose Justice? The women of Bosnia and Herzegovina are still waiting', details how thousands of rape survivors are still denied justice and reparation, while those responsible walk free, sometimes within the same community.
It says that many survivors still suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychological problems, yet receive little support.
The report is based on extensive research by Amnesty International, whose representatives met with survivors of sexual violence, support organisations, local NGOs, government officials and representatives of the international community.
The new investigation comes ahead of the 14-year anniversary of the end of the war with the signing of the Dayton Agreement in November 1995, and nine years after the UN passed Resolution 1325, the first formal and legal document from the Security Council requiring parties in a conflict to respect women's rights and to support their participation in peace negotiations and post-conflict reconstruction.
Nicola Duckworth, Amnesty International's Europe Programme Director, explained: "During the war, thousands of women and girls were raped, often with extreme brutality. Many were held in prison camps, hotels and private houses where they were sexually exploited. Many women and girls were killed.
"To this day, survivors of these crimes have been denied access to justice. Those responsible for their suffering - members of military forces, the police or paramilitary groups - walk free. Some remain in positions of power or live in the same community as their victims.
"The government of Bosnia and Herzegovina has an obligation to provide these victims with access to justice and the full reparation to which they are entitled.
"For this to happen, the authorities must ensure comprehensive investigations that lead to prosecutions of war crimes of sexual violence in the country. Without meaningful justice and full and effective reparation, victims continue to suffer the effects of these horrific crimes."
Jasmina, a survivor of sexual violence during the war, told Amnesty International: "I can't sleep without pills. I still get upset easily when people mention the war. An image, a memory, a TV spot can be a spark. I can't stand it ... I need help."
The authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina have failed to provide these women with access to adequate healthcare or psychological support, which is provided only by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working with limited resources. A Bosnian NGO told Amnesty International that the vast majority of survivors of war crimes of sexual violence are not receiving any psychological assistance.
Thousands of women survivors also lost family members. Many are not able to find or maintain jobs because of their psychological condition. Many remain without a stable source of income and live in poverty, unable to buy the medicines they need.
As rape continues to be a taboo subject, in most cases the women face stigmatisation and do not receive the recognition and vital assistance they need to help them rebuild their lives.
Ms Duckworth added: "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.
"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 heath-care. The government should support survivors of war crimes of sexual violence, to give them a voice to demand their rights and combat discrimination and stigmatisation they face in everyday life."
Rape and other crimes of sexual violence occurred on a massive scale during the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was established in 1993 to prosecute serious violations of international humanitarian law, including sexual violence. However, the ICTY was only able to prosecute a limited number of cases related to sexual violence in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The figure stands at 18 as of July 2009.
The War Crimes Chamber of the State Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina was created in 2005 to investigate and prosecute crimes which could not be prosecuted by the ICTY. To date, only 12 men have been convicted for crimes of sexual violence.
Read the full report: 'Whose justice? The women of Bosnia and Herzegovina are still waiting' here: (Adobe Acrobat *.PDF file) - http://www.amnesty.org.uk/uploads/documents/doc_19728.pdf