During the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia and Herzegovina thousands of women and girls were raped, often with extreme brutality. The testimonies women gave just after the war resulted in widespread media attention, public outrage and changes in international law. However since then very little has been done for the survivors.
In 2009, Amnesty International went to Bosnia and Herzegovina to speak to survivors of war crimes of sexual violence about their needs, problems and experiences with the justice system. The conclusions were clear: the authorities have failed to ensure access to justice and reparation to the survivors.
Survivors continue to suffer trauma and other psychological and physical problems as a result of rape and other forms of torture they experienced during the war. Many survivors cannot afford medicines even when these are prescribed by a doctor. Many are unemployed and live in poverty. Social and economic support services for the survivors are generally not available.
In addition, those responsible for their suffering, members of military forces, police and paramilitary groups, enjoy impunity. Some remain in positions of power and live in the same community as their victims.
Survivors of sexual violence want the authorities to acknowledge their rights as victims of war crimes. Instead, the women still find themselves marginalized and neglected. Women survivors of war crimes of sexual violence are discriminated against with regard to social benefits and other support available to them in comparison to war veterans, who enjoy access to health care, generous pensions and other social benefits.
Unlike the ex-combatants who formed powerful and vocal associations, women who experienced war rape are less likely to publicly demand their rights. They are afraid of the social stigma attached to rape and they rarely even tell their families what happened to them during the war.
This year the Bosnia and Herzegovina authorities finally took a stand against the marginalization of survivors of war rape. As a result of huge international pressure, including by Amnesty International, a number of policy and legal changes were initiated by the government with the aim of bringing justice and reparation to survivors of war crimes of sexual violence.
In July the Ministry of Human Rights and the Ministry of Justice announced that the government will amend relevant laws and set up a state strategy on improving the situation for survivors of war crimes of sexual violence. It is crucial that the new government formed after elections in October effectively continues the positive work initiated by their predecessors in response to survivors needs.