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Special Rapporteur on Violence against women finalises country mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina

SARAJEVO (5 November 2012) – At the end of her official country mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina, the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Ms. Rashida Manjoo, delivered the following statement:

“I would like to begin by expressing my appreciation to the Government of Bosnia and Herzegovina for extending the invitation to conduct an official country mission. I am grateful to all my interlocutors, including State level authorities; entity and cantonal level authorities of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina; entity and municipal level authorities of the Republika Srpska, as well as representatives of civil society organisations, United Nations agencies, and the donor community. Most importantly, I want to thank the individual women who courageously shared their personal experiences of violence and survival with me.

The government of Bosnia and Herzegovina has recognized the importance of upholding and protecting the human rights of women by signing and ratifying relevant international human rights instruments. It has also enacted domestic legislation such as the Law on Prohibition of Discrimination of 2009; the 2005 Laws on Protection from Family Violence in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska, as well as the introduction of domestic violence as an offence within the entity level criminal codes; and the Law on Gender Equality of 2003, which was amended in 2009 to include the definition and prohibition of all forms of gender-based violence in private and public life. These laws acknowledge the State’s obligation to provide measures of prevention, protection, assistance and compensation. Many of these laws are being amended and/or reviewed to further the goal of protection.

I am encouraged by the recent signing by Bosnia and Herzegovina of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence. It is my hope that as the country works towards its ratification specific steps are taken to ensure that the standards set out in this convention are complied with throughout the country.

Other positive developments include the development of various strategic frameworks and action plans, including for the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325, and the use of innovative approaches to facilitate women’s participation in the military and the police forces, both in internal and external initiatives.

The success of these legislative and programmatic initiatives, however, is hampered by the high levels of fragmentation in legislative standards and a lack of coherence among implementing authorities, which often results in the non-realization of women’s civil, political, social, economic, and cultural rights. This then results in the lack of effective redress for women who have been victims of violence, both past and present.

The full realization of women’s rights is impaired by the structure of the country’s political institutions and the fact that no State level authority has the jurisdiction to ensure the adequate implementation of the international human rights obligations adopted by the State.

The judiciary plays a crucial role in protecting rights and the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council (HJPC) has the mandate to oversee the performance of the Judiciary. Unfortunately its assessments, statistics and evaluations are not easily or publicly available, nor disclosed in annual reports. While it is fundamental to uphold the independence of the Judiciary and the separation of powers, it is also important for other State authorities, including the Legislative and Executive branches, to receive information as regards the cases and issues being addressed by the courts, and the way they are being handled. This will ensure that policy and law-making adequately reflect the real concerns and needs of the population.

Furthermore, there are high levels of dissatisfaction with the functioning of the Judiciary, which were confirmed in my interviews with individual victims of violence, both war-time rape survivors and domestic violence victims. As regards the cases of domestic violence that have reached the courts, I received complaints from victims including the low sentencing of perpetrators or the suspension of their sentences, the use of protective measures in lieu of and not simultaneously with sanctions, and perpetrators of violence not being denied custody of children, to name a few. When issued, most protective measures do not benefit victims directly, but rather aim to change perpetrators behaviours through counselling or treatment without effectively ensuring a protective environment for women victims of violence and their children. This was further confirmed by women prisoners who also indicated challenges in the application of due process standards in courts.

As regards the institutional responses to Domestic Violence, I had the opportunity to visit three NGO-run safe-houses and learn about their cooperative approach with local authorities, police stations and Social Welfare Centres to identify and refer women victims of violence. I am concerned however about the prevailing focus on family reunification which leads to police officers and the Social Welfare Centres not always focusing on the best interests of women victims. In some cases these entities are playing the role of gate-keepers and are sometimes obstacles to women’s access to the much needed shelter and services offered by NGOs. In many cases the signing of agreements between the service providers and different local authorities has not resulted in an increase of financial resources for service providers, both state and non-state, but a restriction to their operations.

In one cantonal Ministry of Interior I learnt about a specialized programme for youth offenders and domestic violence victims, using a human rights protection framework, rather than a social welfare approach. I believe this is a valuable emerging practice that should be monitored and replicated in other parts of the country to ensure the protection for women and children victims of violence.

It is crucial for government authorities at all levels to recognize the existence of civilian women victims of rape and torture, regardless of their ethnic or religious backgrounds, and to ensure that they have equal access to remedies and services, regardless of their physical location within the country. In this regard, I understand the need to acknowledge the existence of male victims of war-time rape, yet I encourage the government to ensure that the specific forms of sexual violence and the high prevalence rates experienced by women are adequately taken into consideration when implementing any initiatives to provide justice and effective remedies to victims.

It was made clear to me that in many cases, domestic violence is linked to the legacy of war, and women and men suffering from PTSD, and other war-related mental health problems as well as unemployment, poverty or addiction. As the government strives to assess and address the impact that the war had on men and how to ensure they do not place women at a higher risk of domestic violence, it should also recognize the experiences that women themselves faced during the war, and their entitlement to justice, reparations, and information and assistance on the missing and the disappeared. 

In this regard, I was informed about initiatives to adopt a Transitional Justice Strategy, to ensure access to justice and reparation for all civilian victims of war, including survivors of sexual violence; a Law on the Rights of Victims of Torture and Civilian Victims of War, to ensure access for civilian victims of war to equal social benefits; and the development of the Programme for Improvement of the Status of Survivors of Conflict related Sexual Violence (2013-2016). I encourage the authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina to speedily finalize the adoption of these legislative and programmatic initiatives, and call on the authorities of both the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska to actively participate in their implementation.

A very relevant fear shared by interviewed survivors of war-time rape and torture is the fact that time continues to pass by with no justice being served. It is crucial to speed up efforts and achieve political solutions at State level. Transitional justice endeavours should ensure the public acknowledgment and memorialization of women victims, their access to compensation, including non-material damages, and their empowerment. This is particularly important considering the country’s overall economic situation and how unemployment and poverty impact all people but women victims of violence in particular.

Currently, women’s access to social protection is limited by the lack of a homogenous social welfare system to guarantee the equal access to resources and services, throughout the country. Social welfare legislation varies from one entity to the other and the provision of social benefits through municipal and/or cantonal departments is not uniform. For example, I was informed that in the specific case of victims of domestic violence, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina does not include them as beneficiaries and leaves this decision to the cantonal authorities, yet only 3 out of the 10 cantons have decided to specifically include women as a category.

I noticed during my visit that most government initiatives on violence against women are focused on the problem of domestic violence. I understand it is only recently that the issue was recognized and introduced into the country’s political agenda, and that women are increasingly speaking up and reporting this specific form of violence. I encourage the government, however, to recognize and address other forms of violence against women and hope that specific legislation and programs on issues such as mobbing, sexual harassment, rape and violence against women in institutions, are speedily adopted.

I would also like to encourage the government and the donor community not only to mainstream a gender perspective into development programmes, but also to launch specific programmes targeting women, particularly women victims of violence, and their right to development and a life free from violence.

My findings will be discussed in a comprehensive way in the report I will present to the United Nations Human Rights Council in June 2013.”

ENDS

Ms. Rashida Manjoo (South Africa) was appointed Special Rapporteur on Violence against women, its causes and consequences in June 2009 by the UN Human Rights Council. As Special Rapporteur, she is independent from any government or organization and serves in her individual capacity. Ms. Manjoo also holds a part-time position as a Professor in the Department of Public Law of the University of Cape Town. Learn more, visit: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/women/rapporteur/index.htm