20 years on, Bosnia victims still search for justice

“I remember everything and I wish I didn’t. I remember the torture. They beat me until I couldn’t get up. They would come and take me on my own and I would be [left alone with the man] in a room.  I was [detained] for three months. I had no idea where my children were. I dream every night about what happened.”

That is the horrific story of ‘M’ describing the treatment she received at the hands of Serbian paramilitaries during the Bosnian war, which began almost exactly 20 years ago.

M’s story is one of many case studies contained in a new briefing that was launched by Amnesty International at the University of Sarajevo today.

It is astonishing that even after this length of time, people like ‘M’ are no nearer to justice.

Sadly, as Old Crimes, Same Suffering: No justice for survivors of wartime rape in north-east Bosnia and Herzegovina explains, M’s case is not unique. Thousands of women and girls were subjected to horrific and brutal sexual abuse during the war and they are still being denied justice. And what makes it even more horrific is that in most cases the alleged perpetrators are still living in the same communities.

The problem is selective justice, and it is rife across the former Yugoslav republics. The responsibility to prosecute war criminals has fallen onto individual states. So while in Croatia, Serbian and Bosnian war criminals have been pursued and convicted, that has not been the case with Croatian suspects. Then in Serbia, Croats and Bosnians have faced justice, but not Serbians; and it is a similar scenario in Bosnia.

If these countries really want to be a part of a modern Europe then it’s about time they took justice seriously. The governments of all the former Yugoslav republics must bring those responsible to justice so that the victims have the full reparation they are entitled to.

The horrors of the conflict cannot continue to be brushed under the carpet.

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