Amnesty: Survivors of Sexual Violence During Balkan War Still Denied Justice

Tens of thousands of women who survived enslavement and rape during the 1992-95 war in the Balkans are still being denied justice, according to a report from Amnesty International.

A quarter of a century after the conflict began, the human rights group says many of the survivors are living in poverty and have lost all hope the perpetrators will face trial.

More than 20,000 Bosnian women were subjected to rape and sexual violence during the Balkan war, mostly by Serbian military or paramilitary groups.  Many were held captive for months or years in so-called “rape camps,” tortured, and forcibly impregnated.

“The Bosnian authorities have failed to provide justice and reparations for the utmost majority of them.  Only about 800 women are receiving a pension as civilian victims of war.  And only about 120 perpetrators have been brought to justice,” says Todor Gartos of Amnesty.

Official designation as a “civilian victim of war” allows survivors access to a range of state services.

But under the 1995 Dayton Agreement that brought an end to the conflict, Bosnia and Herzegovina is divided into the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska.  

“This means that women survivors who may be in one part of the country do not have access to this status,” says Gartos.  “Consequently they don’t receive any of the services provided by the state. Other women had their statuses not granted because they couldn’t demonstrate that the violence, that the rape committed against them had caused long term sustained trauma and injuries to them.”

Since war crimes trials began in Bosnia in 2004, Amnesty reports less than one percent of the total number of rape victims have had their cases heard in court.  Amnesty’s Gartos says the prosecution system has improved, but there are still huge obstacles.

“That included the lack of witness protection, women being exposed to perpetrators living in the same communities or perpetrators being protected because of their social status, so for example war generals or war veterans were less likely to be prosecuted.”

Amnesty says that has discouraged survivors from coming forward, undermining confidence in the prosecution system and generating an “overwhelming sense of impunity.”  Many survivors say they doubt they will live long enough to see justice.

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