Wartime sexual violence survivors: Bosnia and Herzegovina’s forgotten ones
The 19 June marks the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict. This day is a reminder that declarative statements are not enough. Concrete steps are needed to improve the rights of survivors, both by the competent authorities and by society as a whole.
According to the United Nations, between 20,000 and 50,000 women and men were raped or sexually assaulted during the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). Although significant progress has been made in BiH, compared to neighboring countries, a number of obstacles prevent survivors from seeking and exercising their rights. The question arises –why do survivors of wartime sexual violence still face systemic problems 25 years after the war?
What deter survivors from speaking up?
The stigma imposed by society, severe psychological issues due to untreated trauma; lack of information about how to navigate the legal process; lack of means to pay for legal assistance; perpetrators who still live in the same communities –these are just some of the obstacles that deter survivors from speaking up about the crimes they have suffered. This becomes evident in the devastating fact that for every 15 to 20 cases of wartime sexual violence, only one is reported.
However, even when they decide to seek justice in court, survivors face problems often caused by the complex and dysfunctional judicial system in BiH, which insufficiently protects the rights and dignity of victims. Behind this there are political blockades and a lack of resources –leading to the fact that victims are not provided with full and effective access to justice, truth and reparations. Although the State of BiH is responsible for guaranteeing these fundamental rights, in order to help survivors overcome unimaginable traumas and enable them to build a new life.
TRIAL International’s action
For many years, TRIAL International has been working on improving the situation of survivors and fighting for their rights, advocating for systemic solutions. The organization provided legal support to 36 survivors of wartime sexual violence. Thanks to its efforts, 9 perpetrators are being held accountable for crimes they committed.
Despite the significant progress in recent years, the problems faced by survivors still often remain unaddressed. It is up to all individuals, organizations and institutions to raise awareness about their rights, especially by combating the impunity of perpetrators and eliminating stigma, which would restore victims’ trust in the justice system and society as a whole.