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UN committee calls on Bosnia and Herzegovina to recognise sexual violence survivors’ rights after 25 years of impunity

GENEVA (19 August 2020) – The UN women’s rights committee has found that survivors of sexual violence in armed conflict have been long neglected in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), and has called on the government to take immediate action to provide adequate social and economic support. 

In the views adopted in its latest session regarding an individual complaint, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) concluded that conflict-related sexual violence investigations in the country had been ineffective and too slow, and there was insufficient compensation and support for victims in BiH.

The individual complaint, made by S.H., a Bosnian national of Croat ethnicity, argued that sexual violence survivors in BiH had long been living in poverty and without dignity.

S.H. lived with her husband in the municipality of Prijedor, a village occupied by Bosnian Serb forces. She was robbed by four armed men and raped by one of them when she was home alone in August 1995. S.H. reported the incident to the local police but she did not obtain a copy of the police report and no investigation was opened.

The rape caused S.H. physical and psychological harm, including a serious genital infection, for which she could not afford appropriate treatment and thus developed into cervical disease. She also suffered depression and a permanent change of personality. S.H has been living below the poverty line since she divorced in 2009.

S.H. only found out in 2008 that her initial case files had been disposed of 10 years after the offence. From 2009 to 2017, she wrote to different authorities to request that her case be reopened but without success.  She then brought her complaint to CEDAW in 2017.

In 2019, the BiH authorities eventually recognized her status as a victim of conflict-related sexual violence and granted her a monthly disability pension of 130 marka (€66.47).

“S.H.’s pension is not commensurate with what she suffered. This included severe physical harm impacting her sexual and reproductive health and rights, as well as the psychological harm and material damages she endured for more than 25 years after the incident,” said Nahla Haidar, a CEDAW member. 

“The case reflects the situation of many victims of conflict-related sexual violence whose cases are not investigated in a timely and effective manner, and who do not receive any compensation,” Haidar added. The Committee urged the BiH government to take measures to ensure that S.H.’s case is investigated promptly, impartially and effectively, and to compensate her adequately for the material and moral damage she has suffered. 

During the war in Bosnia between 1992 and 1995, some 12,000 to 50,000 girls and women were raped by armed forces, according to various estimates. UN research conducted in 2017 into the socio-economic obstacles faced by survivors of conflict-related sexual violence in Bosnia and Herzegovina showed that 62% of survivors were unemployed, 64% had no social support, and more than a half of them lived under poverty line.

Among its recommendations, the Committee urges the BiH government, which is undergoing post-conflict transitional justice processes, to ensure that survivors of wartime sexual violence have full access to national remedies, effective relief and reparations on a basis of equality before the law.
For media inquiries, please contact Vivian Kwok at +41 (0) 22 917 9362 / vkwok@ohchr.org or the UN Human Rights Office Media Section at +41 (0) 22 928 9855 / media@ohchr.org 

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women monitors States parties' adherence to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which to date has 189 States parties. The Committee is made up of 23 members who are independent human rights experts drawn from around the world, who serve in their personal capacity and not as representatives of States parties.

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