Bosnia’s failure in supporting survivors of wartime sexual violence condemned by the UN
On 19 July 2020, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) rendered its’ first decision against Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), concluding that “gender-based violence against women is a form of discrimination and torture”. The Committee called on the state to provide immediate support to survivors of wartime sexual violence. This is a historic first, both in terms of designating BiH as responsible, and in recognizing the suffering of sexual violence survivors.
The CEDAW decision was prompted by a case brought by TRIAL International, in which the Bosnian state had failed to ensure an impartial and effective investigation, and to guarantee fair and adequate compensation to the victim. Nearly a year ago, a similar case led to another decision against BiH by a UN body, the Committee against Torture.
“In yet another decision by an important international human rights body, it is confirmed that BiH remains ineffective in protecting the rights of wartime sexual violence survivors”, said Lamija Tiro, legal advisor at TRIAL International. “More and more survivors are empowered and willing to seek justice at the international level, after exhausting all domestic legal remedies.”
The CEDAW decision is not limited to this one case, brought by TRIAL International. The committee also calls on Bosnia to ensure prompt, impartial and effective investigations in all cases of gender-based violence, especially in cases of conflict-related sexual violence. It also emphasizes the utmost importance of ensuring that victims obtain compensation and other forms of reparation. Furthermore, CEDAW emphasized in particular in its decision that survivors’ claims for compensation for sexual violence cannot be subjected to statute of limitations.
“This decision is a strong message from the United Nations to Bosnian authorities to respect their international obligations, and to respond in a prompt and adequate manner to the demands of survivors of wartime sexual violence, as one of the most vulnerable groups in Bosnia and Herzegovina”, said Philip Grant, executive director of TRIAL International.