Today marks the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, proclaimed in 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly due to the scale of this crime across the globe. This not only concerns countries undergoing conflict, but also those struggling with the legacy of past violence as the consequences of such crimes are permanent for survivors and society.
The scale of this hideous crime during the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina prompted the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia to recognize sexual violence as a weapon of war and ethnic cleansing. Sexual violence mainly targeted women and girls, but also men and boys.
It is estimated that more than 20,000 women, girls, men and boys were subjected to sexual violence and the number is likely much higher. As for all conflicts, we will never know the exact number of victims - some were killed and many survivors would never speak due to the trauma and stigmatization.
Some towns in Bosnia and Herzegovina are gruesomely associated with systematic, mass sexual violence. It is incomprehensible that survivors continue to still be ignored, dehumanized, and stigmatized, while war criminals continue to be glorified. Authorities at all levels must pay tribute to the memory of victims and to survivors but also ensure reparations.
United Nations human rights treaty bodies have issued recommendations to the State of Bosnia and Herzegovina to ensure access to justice and reparations for victims of sexual violence perpetrated during the conflict. These include the Committee against Torture the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, the Human Rights Committee, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Yet, almost thirty years after the end of the conflict, the majority of survivors have not obtained justice and reparation and continue to live with the physical and psychological consequences of the unspeakable crimes they suffered. Children born out of rape committed during the conflict have also been experiencing stigmatization and a whole range of obstacles.
As noted by the United Nations Secretary-General in his last report to the Security Council on conflict-related sexual violence, insufficient progress has been made in issuing reparations. Survivors who have sought justice have faced inconceivable ordeals. It is unacceptable that those who initiated civil proceedings in order to receive compensation in the Republika Srpska entity are ordered to pay court fees if they lose their cases, and that this involves seizing their assets, including social benefits.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparations and guarantees of non-recurrence, Mr. Fabian Salvioli, expressed concern that this situation prolongs the stigmatization and economic marginalization of survivors .
As Bosnia and Herzegovina marks its 30th year as the United Nations Member State, all relevant authorities must ensure reparation and rehabilitation for survivors of sexual violence perpetrated during the conflict and children born out of rape during that period. This is essential for a society to heal.
 In 2019, the United Nations Committee Against Torture deplored that “the absence of a national reparation mechanism forces victims of war crimes, especially survivors of war-time sexual violence, to go through complex and lengthy proceedings at the entity levels to obtain limited assistance, including social welfare benefits”. It urged Bosnia and Herzegovina to establish an effective reparation scheme at the national level to provide all forms of redress to victims of war crimes, including sexual violence; adopt a framework law that clearly defines criteria for obtaining the status of victims of war crimes, including sexual violence, and sets out the specific rights and entitlements guaranteed to victims throughout the State party; ensure that the authorities at the entity level remove restrictive and discriminatory provisions from their legislation and policies relating to redress for civilian victims of war, including survivors of war-time sexual violence; and compile data, disaggregated by age, sex and ethnicity, on the number of victims in order to fully assess their needs and to provide holistic rehabilitation services to victims without discrimination on account of their place of residence.
 See Report of the United Nations Secretary-General to the United Nations Security Council on conflict-related sexual violence, S/2022/272, 22 March 2022, p. 21, paragraph 63, at https://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/s-2022-272.pdf
Communications and Advocacy Officer UN Resident Coordinator Office