Impunity for Wartime Sexual Violence in Bosnia and Herzegovina Remains Widespread

Courts in Bosnia and Herzegovina have made significant progress in the prosecution of perpetrators for wartime sexual violence, but impunity for such crimes and the stigmatization of rape victims remains a significant problem in the country. This is according to a recent report published by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) on April 3 evaluating how the justice system in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) handles cases of wartime rape and sexual violence. During the Bosnian war, which lasted from 1992-1995, an estimated 20,000 women and girls were victims of conflict-related sexual violence, including rape, sexual slavery, and forced prostitution or pregnancy. When the conflict ended, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was largely responsible for the prosecution of war crimes, including rape used by all sides in the conflict as a weapon of war. Now, responsibility for prosecuting these crimes is shifting to individual States, including BiH.

The OSCE’s report commends the efforts made by BiH to “combat impunity” for wartime sex crimes and improve the administration of justice for victims. This includes the first internationally recorded convictions for crimes against humanity for persecution based on gender. However, the report notes that while conviction rates are high, the actual number of convictions (33) is very small compared to the thousands of sexual crimes and atrocities committed during the war. This means that the vast majority of perpetrators of wartime sexual violence remain free from prosecution, while victims face social stigma and further trauma if they come forward with their stories.

The report made several recommendations for improving prosecution of conflict-related sexual violence and delivering justice to victims, including policies that prioritize the identification, investigation and prosecution of these crimes, specialized training for judges and prosecutors in handling sexual violence cases with sensitivity, amendments to the BiH criminal code, and continued international support for the BiH criminal justice system.

Compiled fromDelivering Justice for Wartime Sexual Violence in Bosnia and Herzegovina, OSCE (April 2, 2014); Sexual Violence Victims of Bosnia War “Stigmatised”, Balkan Transitional Justice (April 3, 2014); Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe: Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Combating Impunity for Conflict-Related Sexual Violence in Bosnia and Herzegovina: Progress and Challenges (February 2014).