The Bosnian War, which erupted in the wake of Yugoslavia’s disintegration in 1992, stands as a sombre chapter in European history. This brutal conflict continued until 1995 when the Dayton Accords were signed, leaving behind an indelible legacy of tragedy. Approximately 100,000 civilians perished, and more than 2 million people were forcibly displaced. The war was characterized by horrific acts of sexual violence, ethnic cleansing, and genocide, with sexual violence used as a weapon of war, leaving deep scars on survivors.
During the Bosnian War in the early 1990s, sexual violence was rampant and systematic, targeting mostly Muslim women and girls. It is estimated that Bosnian Serb forces raped between 20,000 and 60,000 women and girls, but the brutality did not spare men and boys, with castrations and forced intercourse in front of guards being documented. These atrocities often occurred in public, in conjunction with looting and fighting. Detention centres, including schools, became settings for sexual violence. Women and girls were held in designated sites, enduring repeated rapes over days or weeks, often with the sinister intention of forced impregnation.
Sexual violence was not merely an unfortunate byproduct of the conflict but rather a planned and systematic strategy used for ethnic cleansing, instilling fear, humiliation, and shame. Many survivors recount that the perpetrators explicitly stated they were committing these heinous acts to ensure that the victims and their families would never contemplate returning to their homes.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), established by the United Nations, played a pivotal role in addressing the war crimes and mass atrocities committed during the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s. Notably, the ICTY was the first court in history to convict individuals for rape and sexual enslavement as crimes against humanity. In 2005, the War Crimes Chamber of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina was created, successfully prosecuting over 500 individuals for genocide and crimes against humanity, which included rape and sexual violence.
Despite significant legal milestones, many survivors have not seen justice served. They often face inadequate access to reparations and are frequently not recognised as legitimate war victims. While some local courts have awarded financial damages to select survivors, state reparations have yet to materialise. This longstanding lack of justice persists, and even with support from local non-governmental organisations, numerous war victims continue to grapple with enduring social, physical, and psychological consequences of their traumatic experiences.
Significantly, however, a pivotal milestone was recently achieved with the adoption of the “Law on the Protection of Civilian Victims of War” in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. This law enhances the rights of civilian victims of war, which includes victims of sexual violence committed during the war, and recognises children born of wartime rape as a special category of war victims, granting them equal rights as all other victims. The passing of this law reflects the collaboration between civil society organisations, victims’ associations, and the government, with the goal of addressing the long-neglected needs of survivors, fostering empathy, and promoting reconciliation. The law will become effective on January 1, 2024, signifying an important step toward justice, equality, and support for victims in the region.
The Mukwege Foundation is linked to two national survivor networks in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Naš Glas (Our Voice) is an organisation for the Protection of Victims and Survivors of Sexual Violence during War, based in Tuzla, Bosnia and Herzegovina. The organisation is directed directly by victims and survivors and aims to face the past, eliminate the “conspiracy of silence” and promote the values of a democratic civil society, such as humanism, non-violence and tolerance. Naš Glas focuses on improving the situation of the victims and survivors – both men and women – of these crimes, raising awareness about the consequences of CRSV and fighting stigma and discrimination. Naš Glas also works towards the process of creating a peaceful coexistence of the peoples of Bosnia and Herzegovina by contributing to the development of new models and programmes for violence prevention and psychosocial care.
“Suze”, Association for support to victims and survivors of wartime sexual violence, is based in Brčko, and was founded in 2016 with the aim of providing help and support to survivors of wartime sexual violence, both women and men. It is the only multi-ethnic organisation in Brčko that provides support to war victims. They represent the most vulnerable category derived from war, regardless of their religion, nation, race, or age.
It is the first Association in Brčko that publicly marked the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, on June 19, 2021, with the message that they do not want anyone’s pity, but recovery, hope, and justice for all victims of sexual violence in the war. Association “Suze” is a human-rights organisation whose members strive to improve their local community. They fight for their rights and for their stories not to be forgotten but to serve as lessons for future generations. Their message for all future members of the Association is: “Dear mothers, sisters, and others join us! We are stronger together and you have to remember: WAKE UP, YOU ARE NOT ALONE!”
Address: Zlatarska 4, 75000 Tuzla, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Phone: +387 61 411 148
Address: Dušana Vasiljeva 6, 76100 Brčko, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Phone: +387 62 388 554