In a historic ruling, Bosnia awarded compensation to a wartime rape victim for the first time Wednesday. The victim was raped during the 1992–95 conflict.
Rape is a tragic and often undiscussed consequence of armed conflict and the war in Bosnia left thousands of victims seeking recognition from the Bosnian state. To date, Bosnian courts have jailed hundreds of war criminals but claims for compensation have been blocked by Bosnian Serb leaders for fear over the significant number of claims.
Instead, rape victims have been directed to civil courts in the past, where filing a lawsuit is expensive and requires women to reveal their identities.
“The court jailed Bosiljko Markovic and Ostoja Markovic for 10 years and ordered them to pay 26,500 Bosnian marka ($15,200) to the Croat woman they repeatedly raped during the 1992 Serb attack on the northern village of Orahova,” the court said in a statement according to AP. The three year Bosnian war left an estimated 100,000 people dead while the number of women raped could be anywhere from 20,000 to 50,000.
“The victims now have reason to hope that legal practice will change, making it possible to compensate the victims and bring criminals to justice in a single trial,” Adrijana Hanusic, the legal adviser at TRIAL BiH which provides victims with legal assitance, told AP, and describing the ruling as “revolutionary.”
As is often the case in war, rape is systematically used in military conflicts to subdue and instill fear in the opposing side. “During the 1992–1995 war in BiH the use of rape or other forms of sexual violence was widespread,” according to Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) report released in 2013. CEDAW is a group of independent experts that monitor the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which was adopted by the United Nations in 1979. “Rape was used as a means of implementing the strategy of ethnic cleansing and to increase interethnic hatred.”
In a 1994 oral report, [the U.N. representative from Bosnia & Herzegovina] “referred to the mass and systematic rape of non-Serbian women of all ages, stressing that the majority had been Muslim women, as one of the most complex manifestations of aggression, the policy of ethnic cleansing and a particular form of genocide.
Victims of wartime rape have been compensated in the past but cases are extremely rare. In late 1991, three Korean women demanded compensation for “forced prostitution” from the Japanese government and almost six and a half years later received 300,000 yen ($2,272 at the time).
“Money will not erase the pain caused by the perpetrators, but it is nevertheless a very important day for the victim. For her, justice has been fully served,” Hanusic said.