Joint statement: EUD/EUSR, OSCE Mission to BiH, British Embassy and Embassy of the United States of America in BiH: 19 June – International Day for Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict

Today, on the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, we stand in solidarity with everyone impacted by conflict-related sexual violence, including survivors, their communities, and those providing essential assistance.

Sadly, sexual violence is still being used as a weapon of war around the world today. During the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, tens of thousands of women, men, and children were raped or sexually abused. Despite the passage of almost thirty years since the end of the armed conflict, only a small number of survivors have access to meaningful support or have received any form of reparation for the trauma and harm they experienced.

Wide-spread stigma, the lack of accessible support, and the complex nature of entity and local administrative procedures discourage survivors from seeking support for themselves and for their families. Furthermore, many jurisdictions in Bosnia and Herzegovina do not legally recognise children born of conflict-related sexual violence as civilian victims, essentially relegating them to being forgotten by society and their government. Additionally, the experience of male survivors is almost entirely ignored.

However, the pioneering work of a small number of committed individuals has led to some positive developments. Last year, the Government of Brcko District of BiH passed landmark legislation granting individuals born of conflict-related sexual violence full legal status as civilian victims of war. Similar initiatives to provide legal recognition and protection to those born of conflict related sexual violence are already underway in other jurisdictions.

However, this is insufficient, and more must be done at the State-level. The 2019 UN Committee Against Torture (UNCAT) ruling requires the government to establish proper reparation mechanisms that provide all forms of redress.  Initial progress to implement the UNCAT decision has stalled. Political turmoil must not impede Bosnia and Herzegovina’s fulfilment of its obligations towards survivors, their communities, and the wider society, and the UNCAT decision must be implemented fully, meaningfully, and without delay.

Survivors of conflict-related sexual violence must be recognized and protected, and must be treated with respect, understanding, and empathy. To avoid further exacerbating the horrific harms already suffered by these individuals, governments at all levels must fulfil their legal and institutional obligations.