Bosnia: Landmark decision for a survivor of sexual violence
For the first time in history, the United Nations Committee against Torture (CAT) has condemned the Bosnian authorities for failing to fulfill their obligations toward a survivor of sexual violence. The UN body called on Bosnia and Herzegovina to pay the compensation requested by the victim, to issue an official apology, and to ensure that she receives immediate and free medical and psychological care.
“This decision is hugely important, and not only at the domestic level. It is the first decision by the CAT relating to a victim of conflict-related sexual violence, and the first to examine the applicability of the statute of limitations on compensation claims in torture cases”, said Adrijana Hanušić Bećirović, TRIAL International’s Senior Legal Advisor in Sarajevo.
Abandoned by the authorities
The complaint was the first one ever filed against Bosnia and Herzegovina. The victim, represented by TRIAL International, won her case before the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2015, which ordered the perpetrator to pay compensation of BAM 30’000 (approximately EUR 15’000). The latter was not able make the payment for such an amount. Bosnia and Herzegovina did not have funds to cover the payment either. The complainant therefore received nothing.
At this stage, the only option theoretically available to her would be to institute civil proceedings to establish the liability of the State for compensation. However, the Constitutional Court ruled that such civil claims are subject to a statute of limitations of three to five years. As a result, victims are left with no effective legal recourse to obtain financial compensation. By ruling that statutes of limitations do not apply to victims of torture, the CAT has acknowledged the continuous trauma victims of torture experience. Statutes of limitations deprive survivors of the right to compensation and rehabilitation they need in breach of States’ obligations under Article 14 of the Convention Against Torture.
In its decision, the CAT requests Bosnia and Herzegovina to pay compensation to the complainant and to ensure that she receives immediate and free medical and psychological care. The State is also required to issue an official apology to the victim. The ground-breaking decision also states that Bosnia and Herzegovina must establish an effective reparation scheme at the national level to provide all forms of redress to victims of war crimes – including sexual violence. The CAT also urges Bosnia and Herzegovina to develop and adopt a framework law that clearly defines the criteria for obtaining the status of victim of war crimes and sets out the specific rights guaranteed to victims by the State.