Croatia: Delivering justice for victims of sexual violence in war

UNDP Croatia

From the visitors' balcony, a group of around 30 people, most of them women, were watching attentively the parliamentary session. This was May 2015, some twenty years after the war in Croatia, and they were watching the passing of a law that would officially recognize rape and other forms of sexual violence as a war crime.

Highlights

  • 2,200 survivors eligible for care and reparation.
  • The law guarantees a one-time payment of either 13,180 Euros or 19,800 Euros, depending on whether survivors became pregnant.
  • 105 applications received since October 2015, when the provisions kicked in.

The screen turned mostly green, showing votes in favour of the proposal. The law passed in a harsh reminder of the crimes committed and the years it would take to prosecute them.

It was the result of years of campaigning. Sexual violence in Croatia had been widely treated as a taboo. But the tide of silence started ebbing when a local Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) organized a nationwide campaign in 2011 to allow survivors to tell their stories.

In an initiative termed “I am much more than my trauma”, survivors, State and civil society representatives and experts from various fields created a model, sanctioned by the law, for dispensing psycho-social support to survivors and their families. It was part of a comprehensive programme carried out by UNDP and the Ministry of Veteran Affairs.

In early 2012, national, international and civil society organizations picked up on the campaign and met to discuss the issue.

Around 2,200 survivors were identified as eligible to receive accelerated care and reparation. Passed in May 2015 following a broad consultation process, the Law on the Rights of Victims of Sexual Violence during Armed Aggression in the Republic of Croatia lays out all reparation procedures.

The process involved no judges, no rulings and no courts and is less burdensome on survivors as testimonies are considered in good faith, regardless of whether or not survivors can identify and take steps to prosecute their perpetrators.

The system also has the advantage of setting forth a simpler and cheaper procedure, lowering the evidence threshold and sparing the victims of unnecessary trauma and secondary victimization.

Effectively, the State accepted to compensate its citizens in part for failing to protect them during war even if the crime did not take place within national boundaries. In addition, unlike other parts of the world where reparations for sexual violence in war are integrated in welfare legislation and other frameworks, this particular law was meant to stand by itself so it could carry more significance. As such, it stands above all others in the region.

The law guarantees a one-time payment of either 13,180 Euros or 19,800 Euros, depending on whether survivors became pregnant after the rape or were minors at the time of the crime. In accordance with other countries' laws, it also enables access to health care, psycho-social support and free legal aid and sets a standard monthly payment of about 320 Euros.

Many have since then spoken of regaining a sense of purpose in life, or even just a new ability to smile. But the search for survivors continues.