For a long time it was the subject of headlines, documentaries and judicial concerns. Now, it is a buried memory in Europe’s forgotten history. The war crimes that took place in Bosnia Herzegovina were some of the most horrific to occur on European soil since the Second World War. Depending on what report you believe, between 20,000 and 50,000 women and girls were raped in BiH during the conflict. Many were held captive and sexually exploited over long periods of time. With the EU’s drive to tackle corruption in BiH it worries many who have been affected by this issue that it will become a forgotten memory.
The International Criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was set up in 1993. Part of its mandate was to prosecute serious violations of humanitarian law, this includes sexual violence. To date, the ICTY has convicted 18 people of rape. This combined with the domestic courts that have convicted 12 people, brings us to a grand total of 30 prosecutions. Out of a minimum of 20,000 rapes there have only been 30 prosecutions. This is wholly inadequate by anyone’s standards, let alone the thousands of women who have not been able to return to normal life after being subjected to these horrific crimes.
The mandate of international judges is due to lapse in the coming months. This would mean that many cases would have to be bought back to square one in the domestic courts loosing years and thousands of Euros of work. It is essential that the mandate for the International judges is extended so they can continue to investigate these crimes in an impartial and thorough manner. This has to go hand-in-hand with a development of the domestic courts system that currently are inadequate to address issues of rape. This needs to be done with the support and encouragement of the whole European community.
At the moment however, the European community seems hell bent on tackling the headline grabbing issue of corruption. While there is no doubt that this issue is endemic in BiH and is often a root cause of other issues, it can not be prioritised over tackling rape. There needs to be sustained pressure put onto the BiH authorities to insure thorough and impartial investigations are undertaken. If this does not happen I fear that some will never be able to access to justice that they need to have a chance of returning to ordinary life.
“This nation forgets everything. They forget about us victims. But I will never forget about what happened to me.” – Sabiha, interviewed by Amnesty International