Between a rock and a hard place: wartime victim still denied reparation

07.11.2017

Mrs. A. (real name withheld) was raped during the war. Now she is stuck between unenforced compensation and stringent statutes of limitation, leaving her effectively powerless to access reparation. TRIAL International is taking a case to the UN Committee Against Torture.

In 1993, Mrs A. was raped by a member of the Republika Srpska army. As a result, she became pregnant and had to undergo an abortion. Despite the trauma, she battled through the Bosnian justice system until, two decades later, her assaulter was found guilty of war crimes.

In addition to 8 years of imprisonment, his sentence required him to pay a 30’000 BAM (approximately 18’000 USD) reparation to the victim.

This was a victory not just for Mrs A., but also an important precedent in BiH: before her, only one wartime victim had been awarded compensation during criminal proceedings.

The money would have been a boon for Mrs A., who has been diagnosed with permanent personality disorder symptoms and chronic post-traumatic stress disorder. In addition to its symbolic weight, the compensation money could have improved her precarious financial and health conditions.

A battle ends, another begins

Yet Mrs A. never received a penny and the sentence was never enforced. The perpetrator had no property or asset registered in his name and was unable to pay his due.

In such cases, many States would have the obligation to step in and compensate the victim instead, but Bosnian law remains very vague. In the past, TRIAL International has posited that BiH was bound by similar standards – to no avail so far.

But there is even worst news: even initiating a distinct civil case against the authorities would not help her obtain compensation. Due to stringent statutes of limitation, her claim would be considered time-barred. She therefore has no effective remedy and cannot enforce her right to compensation –  including the means for a full rehabilitation.

A failure of the State

To overcome this domestic deadlock, TRIAL International is bringing the case before the United Nations Committee Against Torture. It contends that BiH is failing to its obligations under the Convention Against Torture to provide full and effective reparations to victims.

Our demands are twofold” summarizes Adrijana Hanušić Bećirović, TRIAL’s Senior Legal Advisor in BiH. “We want BiH to abolish the statutes of limitations for civil proceedings, and to step in when perpetrators cannot compensate their victims. Those two measures are a minimum for survivors to access reparation.”