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Home » Home, UN NEWS » How to break the silence about victims of sexual violence from the wars in former Yugoslavia: What the United Nations can do?

How to break the silence about victims of sexual violence from the wars in former Yugoslavia: What the United Nations can do?

Velma Šarić, president of the Post-Conflict Research Centar from Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina speaking to the #RallyForHerJustice event in New York, 29 October 2019 (Photo News for Education Web - Erol Avdovic)

Tanya Domi, professor of human rights at Columbia University New York speaking at the #RallyForHerJustice event in New York, 29 October 2019 (Photo News for Education Web - Erol Avdovic)

Mark Gjonaj Councilman at New York City Council speaking at the #RallyForHerJustice event in New York, 29 October 2019 (Photo News for Education Web - Erol Avdovic)

Protestors from Bosnian, Croatian and Kosovo/Albanian American communities at the #RallyForHerJustice event in New York, 29 October 2019 (Photo News for Education Web - Erol Avdovic)

Antonio Guterres UN Secretary General at the UN Security Council meeting that unanimously adopted resolution 2493 (2019) on Women and Peace and Security, urging Member States to fully implement the provisions of all previous Security Council Resolutions pertaining to the Women, Peace and Security agenda and to reinforce their efforts in this regard. 29 October 2019 (UN photo by Iskender Debebe)

Heiko Maas, Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Germany and President of the Security Council for the month of April, chairs the Security Council meeting on women and peace and security, with a focus on sexual violence in conflict. 23 April 2019 (UN photo by Loey Felipe)

Heiko Maas, Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Germany and President of the Security Council for the month of April, chairs the Security Council meeting on women and peace and security, with a focus on sexual violence in conflict. 23 April 2019 (UN photo by Loey Felipe)

Heiko Maas, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Germany and President of the Security Council for the month of April, chairs the Security Council meeting on women and peace and security, with a focus on sexual violence in conflict. 23 April 2019 (UN photo by Loey Felipe)

By Erol Avdovic – (story in Bosnian on Klix.ba – here) – In April this year, at the proposal and significant push by the German government, the United Nations (UN) Security Council passed the resolution (No. 2467) on sanctioning sexual violence in conflict zones.

On behalf of Germany, which is currently a non-permanent member of the Security Council, Foreign minister Heiko Maas then promised at the UN that according to the resolution, the perpetrators of sexual violence, no matter were they hiding, would have to face justice, or countries that hide them would face sanctions.

From New York minister Maas called on all UN member states, especially those in which violence of this kind occurred, to support victims “through better access to (judicial) justice, medical and psychological assistance, and reintegration into society.” The resolution, which was eventually endorsed by all Western countries, including the Trump administration, which initially opposed it, was called by the German diplomat as an action that brings victims back into the center of attention.

 

Disrespect for UN resolutions

 

But 20 or more years after the wars in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Kosovo, in which,

Velma Šarić, president of the Post-Conflict Research Centar from Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina speaking to the #RallyForHerJustice event in New York, 29 October 2019 (Photo News for Education Web - Erol Avdovic)

Velma Šarić, president of the Post-Conflict Research Centar from Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina speaking to the #RallyForHerJustice event in New York, 29 October 2019 (Photo News for Education Web – Erol Avdovic)

according to the UN, nearly 70,000 women were raped in the period 1991-1999, survivors of sexual violence, with severe trauma, including the stigmatization of the places from which they originate until their legal and social rights are denied, they are not satisfied with the governments of the Western Balkans. Politicians have done little or nothing to alleviate their suffering.

“I am also here to say that UN resolutions are not respected in Bosnia and Herzegovina when it comes to rape and sexual abuse,” Velma Saric, president of the Post-Conflict Research Center in Sarajevo, told me at the “Rally for her justice” gathering in New York, on October 29th. She draws attention that the perpetrators of these acts are generally not prosecuted.

“Unfortunately, victims even meet perpetrators in their small communities on a daily basis,” says Saric, who came to New York for just one day to speak at the gathering (#RallyForHerJustice), a protest rally of women from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Kosovo in front Of the Consulate of the Republic of Serbia.

“We are also here to break this silence and support the victims jointly, and to demand the prosecution of war criminals,” Saric added. In particular, she emphasized that, even if these legal court proceedings are initiated in Bosnia, then they either take too long or the investigation is slow.

In August this year the UN Committee Against Torture has ruled that the Bosnian government must pay compensation to a victim of sexual violence during the 1992-95 war and “provide her with appropriate and free medical and psychological help as soon as possible.”

UN committee also ordered an official apology to be made publicly directly to the woman, who was raped in 1993 by a Bosnian Serb Army soldier.

Bosnia and Herzegovina “must set up an efficient system of reparations at the state level in order to provide all forms of redress to victims of war crimes, including sexual violence”, UN said. But some say it is to little to late.

This is some new “breaking point”, a moment where things could go better because of the expressed solidarity of women victims of past wars in the former Yugoslavia, says Tanja Domi, a professor of human rights at New York’s Columbia University. Domi is also a well-known activist, who frequently visits the Balkan countries, including Sarajevo.

 

A long way to justice

 

Tanya Domi, professor of human rights at Columbia University New York speaking at the #RallyForHerJustice event in New York, 29 October 2019 (Photo News for Education Web - Erol Avdovic)

Tanya Domi, professor of human rights at Columbia University New York speaking at the #RallyForHerJustice event in New York, 29 October 2019 (Photo News for Education Web – Erol Avdovic)

“I think this gathering (#RallyForHerJustice) in New York is really the beginning of the break in the silence on the mass rapes committed by Serbian militias against Bosnian, Croat and Kosovo women from 1991 to1999 Balkan wars.” That is why we should speak up, Domi told me.

In doing so, she mentions Vasfi Krasniqi-Goodman, one of the victims of the war rape, whose address to the New York rally was “deeply distressing.” Recently, Krasniqi-Goodman also testified before the Helsinki Committee of the United States Congress. At the rally in New York she presented some eerie details of the abuse against her.

According to the rally organizers there will be more talk about this and the suffering of others in the coming period in order to put victims in focus again.

Domi also states that this event is only the first step and that it should become a viable campaign in America and elswhere. In the Balkans in particular, the road to justice has always been a long and uncertain one.

“Serbian government officials will not like the criticism, but it is absolutely needed to finger-point the government in Belgrade. Serbia continues to deny the Srebrenica genocide, even though the world has long been appalled by these heinous crimes, ” Domi says.

She added that the Balkan governments should be compelled to act in accordance with UN resolutions.

Answering our question which governments in the Western Balkans are best or worst in providing assistance to the victims of war sexual abuse and pursuing the perpetrators as UN resolutions (res.“1325” of 2000, and “2467” of 2019.) require, Velma Saric says almost all local prosecutors are doing poorly, but “Serbia is in worst position.”

“I must also refer to the smaller BH entity, Republika Srpska, which really shows neither the political will nor the maturity to tackle the crimes that have been committed. We are witnessing that the lowest-ranking cases are currently pending before the state court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and we do not have any at all – trials of high-ranking military and political perpetrators. At the same time, Serbia needs to stop hiding war criminals because many of them have dual citizenship, and because they can easily flee Bosnia and stay there, ” Saric said. She cited the example of mass killing at “Tuzlanska kapija” (Tuzla Gate), for which Serbian general Novak Djukic was convicted in court in Sarajevo, but he never didn’t report for serving his sentence while hiding in Serbia.

 

There are also bright examples

 

But, unlike the Serbian government, some, as professor Domi says, “very brave people in Serbia are working hard to change the environment of impunity in that country.”

“The legal work and proponing that the Humanitarian Law Center is doing, as well as the non-governmental organization Youth Initiative for Human Rights, also located in Belgrade, are very important. They just have just received the Vaclav Havel Award from by the Council of Europe. Yet, authorities led by Aleksandar Vucic persist in denying genocide, and mass rapes have never been acknowledged,” Domi points.

She says that  by a very visible and transparent campaign “Serbia will be ashamed and thai is absolutely necessary”.

One of the organizers of the protest in New York, City Council member Mark Gjonaj, happened to

Mark Gjonaj Councilman at New York City Council speaking at the #RallyForHerJustice event in New York, 29 October 2019 (Photo News for Education Web - Erol Avdovic)

Mark Gjonaj Councilman at New York City Council speaking at the #RallyForHerJustice event in New York, 29 October 2019 (Photo News for Education Web – Erol Avdovic)

be the loudest speaker in front of the Serbian consulate, repeatedly asked those presented to loudly and jointly say “we demand justice now”, but also “shame on you and Serbia.” He said the victims will never forget what happened to them and who did harm them.

“Even if everyone is silent, we will talk about it, until the perpetrators receive a well-deserved sentence,” Gjonaj told me.

“It may seem to the world that the crimes took place long time ago, 25 years ago, but for those who lost their loved ones who were killed and those who survived and saw with their own eyes the most horrific crimes – for them war didn’t end yet. The wounds are still too deep and the scars too big, ” Gjonaj said. He insists that the perpetrators must be held accountable.

“This community will continue to gather until it happens,” he said. “Because,” he said “war rape is a war crime.”

 

No reconciliation without justice

 

The rally in New York was supported by many public figures and diplomats through social networks, and the slogan “justice delayed is justice denied” was heard again. But there were more specific requests for compensation of all victims of sexual abuse in the wars in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo.

“Victims have never exercised their right to reparation for all the psychological and other suffering they have experienced as a result,” Velma Saric recalled. She points out that ” for a woman rape is the most serious crime that destroys not only her personally, but her entire family and society as a whole.”

Protestors from Bosnian, Croatian and Kosovo/Albanian American communities at the #RallyForHerJustice event in New York, 29 October 2019 (Photo News for Education Web - Erol Avdovic)

Protestors from Bosnian, Croatian and Kosovo/Albanian American communities at the #RallyForHerJustice event in New York, 29 October 2019 (Photo News for Education Web – Erol Avdovic)

“It means that there is no peace without justice. It also means that, if rape crimes like all other (war) crimes are not prosecuted, there will be no future for the region. We are constantly talking about reconciliation, and we are witnessing that, according to the UN – (only in Bosnia) between 20,000 and 50,000 women were raped in the past war, and only 750 of them had some chance and right to reparations. That tells us how late we are,” Saric said.

 

To be continued in Spring 2020

 

On the other hand, Mark Gjonaj says this campaign will go on for some time, and that this is needed precisely because of all the lessons that were not learned in the Balkans. He said, similar crimes, and suffering of the victims, occurred in as many as 21 countries, according to the UN. Mr. Gjonaj also announced the new gathering will take place again in May 2020, when violence against women in generally will be discussed. He said, it will be, perhaps in front of the UN building. There is no better city than New York if you want these messages to be heard by the whole world, Gjonaj pointed out.

“The international community and world leaders must do much more to stop rape as a weapon of war now. This is not only a question for the Balkans, but also a matter for all humanity. This must stop, and this is why this protest is so important,” the member of the New York City Council concluded.

How much this will be appreciated by the Balkan political leaders remains to be seen. Even when it come to the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, he is critics point – talking the talk, but not walking the walk.

 

What the United Nations can do

 

Recently, at the UN Security council Guterres confessed, “of course, we know that women and girls

Antonio Guterres UN Secretary General at the UN Security Council meeting that unanimously adopted resolution 2493 (2019) on Women and Peace and Security, urging Member States to fully implement the provisions of all previous Security Council Resolutions pertaining to the Women, Peace and Security agenda and to reinforce their efforts in this regard. 29 October 2019 (UN photo by Iskender Debebe)

Antonio Guterres UN Secretary General at the UN Security Council meeting that unanimously adopted resolution 2493 (2019) on Women and Peace and Security, urging Member States to fully implement the provisions of all previous Security Council Resolutions pertaining to the Women, Peace and Security agenda and to reinforce their efforts in this regard. 29 October 2019
(UN photo by Iskender Debebe)

continue to pay the consequences of conflict in general”. UN Secretary General said, that nearly two decades since resolution 1325 a “unique impact of armed conflict on women and girls” is still very harmful, including use of sexual and gender-based violence as a weapon of war.

It looks like little has been changed since the Balkan wars and UN was saying then newer again.

When I asked UN chief spokesperson Stephane Dujarric what does the Secretary General plans to do to address the issue of Rohingya (Muslim) women that are being systematically raped by Myianmar military, police and its camarilla he said Mr. Guterres already spoke clearly and loudly on that issue.

Yes, but he didn’t act. And, Mr. Guterres also missed to included and follow up cases of sexually abused women in Kosovo in his last Report on the issue world-wide regarding.

According to media reports some 18.000 Rohingya Muslim women were raped that way.

In the meantime, he told Security Council ”UN departments are implementing a new, stronger policy on women, peace and security.” But it looks like Guterres is actually promoting more his gender equality agenda, which is commendable, yet not the same like preventing the war related sexual violence, based on previous terrible experience including Balkans.

Indeed, Guterres stressed that his appointments of many women as heads and deputy heads of the peacekeeping missions world-wide were endorsed by more than 150 UN member states.

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