Towards Reparations for Conflict-Related Sexual Violence in Bosnia and Herzegovina
The International Tribunal on the Conflict in the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) comes to an end on 31 December 2017. Its 24-year history and legacy will be discussed in Sarajevo during the ICTY Legacy Dialogues Conference opening on June 19.
High on the conference agenda will be reparations and the evolution of jurisprudence on conflict related sexual violence. IOM continues to press for the rights of survivors of such violence in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The programmes are supported by IOM’s regional office in Vienna. Below is an interview between senior regional media and communications officer Joe Lowry and Aida Skenderagić, who works for IOM Bosnia and Herzegovina on the Joint UN Programme Providing Care, Support and Justice for Survivors of Conflict Related Sexual Violence in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
JL: Twenty years after the end of the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina, survivors of conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) have not been provided redress in an adequate and equal way across the country. Why is this and what can be done about it?
AS: Political dynamics and budget restrictions have led to fragmented and limited legal solutions. A comprehensive reparations programme in the country is beyond urgent. Within the Joint UN Programme in Bosnia and Herzegovina seeking care, support and justice for survivors of CRSV, IOM focuses on facilitating the enhancement and harmonization of the legal framework relating to the status and rights of CRSV survivors.
One of the survivors’ indispensable rights is the right to financial compensation. At the same time, it is the measure that Governments point out to be a serious impediment for the creation of comprehensive programs. Notably, 20 years later, money is the last thing survivors seek.
JL: What do they then seek? Do you have some examples to put this into context for people not familiar with the situation, or people who just assume things are fine nowadays?
AS: For sure. On a semi positive note, we are working with a child born out of rape, now a young man. He’s obtained a high school diploma, found a job and became a husband and a father. His adoptive parents, co-workers and friends admire him not because of his life story, but because of his work skills, his conduct, and the confidence when he speaks about his childhood and a mother he has never met. He has significantly changed the strict and traditional face of his local community. Yet, he has done this almost completely on his own.
At the other end of the spectrum, there is a case of a woman and her son who were raped in front of each other in a detention camp. Years after, the son started his own family and, for a while, led a seemingly quiet family life. Almost 15 years after the incident he committed suicide. The mother told this story at a meeting of survivors organized by IOM. What was truly striking was she said she felt content at the meeting. Not because she was informed of the rights she is entitled to as a survivor, but because she was served lunch which she did not have to prepare by herself and because she took a pen and a notebook from the meeting room to give to her student granddaughter.
JL: There must be hundreds if not thousands of similar stories unfolding across the country every day.
AS: Exactly. A child born out of rape is 25 today. A woman raped in a detention camp is 66. Both of them have families. The current benefits survivors enjoy in some parts of the country serve to cover their day-to-day basic needs, but the factor that needs to be restored in their stories is the hope that the future can be prosperous and better for them and, especially, for their descendants.
JL: What is the legal position?
AS: The responsibility of the state to provide comprehensive reparations to CRSV survivors is explicitly stipulated in several international documents. These documents urge the state to act. On the other hand, legislation cannot order individuals, members of different organizations, ministries and communities, how to think. Individuals’ impartial and unprejudiced mindsets contribute to the effective implementation of the survivors' unalienable rights. In order to reach one of the key forms of reparations — restitution — each actor in the country should strive to build an adequate environment for survivors where they can integrate and successfully exercise internationally granted rights. Restitution should, whenever possible, restore the victim to the original situation before the violations occurred.
Ultimately, reparations are one of the tools of restoring the survivors’ faith in the system that is implemented by individuals employed in the state bodies, but also by a teacher who educates on human rights and a student who adopts that knowledge, or a writer who writes a book on the violations and a person reading that book. It is not only the duty, but also the best interest of the state and its citizens that survivors and their families are integrated and given a chance to contribute to their communities with their skills, stories and immeasurable strength each one of them has.
 UN Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations
Aida Skenderagić was born 1988 in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. In 2011, she graduated from the Faculty of Law at University of Sarajevo from where she also received her MA in EU Law 2014. In 2012, she worked on developing the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina War Crimes Digest aiming to provide a comprehensive legal digest of war crimes cases. Since 2015, she has been working as a guest lecturer at University of Zenica and University of Sarajevo, teaching International Arbitration Law.