The ordeal faced by victims of sexual violence in Bosnia
The way to justice is often a long and arduous process for the victims of sexual violence who try to assert their rights. Even if they manage to overcome the obstacles to the opening of legal proceedings, they still have to face disappointing judgements, which are often too lenient, and are inconsistent from case to case.
Victims of sexual violence who wish to prosecute their perpetrators must overcome many barriers, whether it is the stigma associated with the crime they have suffered, the psychological trauma, financial problems or the lack of information on how to seek redress. Then, if their cases finally lead to the conviction of the perpetrators, the sanctions are often weak, if not ridiculous. This is due to a lack of transparency in the application of aggravating and mitigating factors, as well as in the reasoning behind judgments. In addition to the low severity of sentences, the penalties imposed for such crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina are inconsistent and do not reflect the extent of the victim’s suffering.
Need for unification
In an attempt to unify practices in this area, TRIAL International has published two guides for judges and investigators, based on the analysis of over 100 judgments from the different courts in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Both publications were presented at a recent round table in Sarajevo that brought together relevant stakeholders – judges, prosecutors and representatives of non-governmental and international organizations.
In particular, lack of training was identified as one of the main causes of inconsistencies in sentencing. In this regard, TRIAL International intends to strengthen its cooperation with the training centres for judges and prosecutors of the Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. New training on procedures related to sexual violence will attempt to establish new practices among judges and prosecutors dealing with these cases, including a systematic critical analysis of mitigating and aggravating circumstances.
It also emerged from these discussions that the existing arrangements – which alleviate financial penalties and, in some cases, allow prison sentences to be converted into fines – must be challenged.
TRIAL International calls on the various judicial actors to continue discussions on their respective practices in investigating and prosecuting cases of sexual violence. Their respective roles must be constantly adapted to ensure that victims achieve the most satisfactory outcome possible in the future.