The world must learn from the mistakes made after the Bosnian war to avoid inflicting decades of trauma on Ukrainian victims of conflict-related rape and sexual violence, a new expert report warns.
Ukrainian prosecutors and independent investigators from the United Nations and other international organizations say there is growing evidence that Russian troops are using rape and sexual violence as part of their campaign of terror in Ukraine – similar to the systematic use of rape by the Bosnian Serb army. during the Bosnian War in the early 1990s. Russia has denied the allegations.
The report from the New Lines Institute for Strategy and Policy, a US-based think tank, is expected to be published and discussed in a debate in the British Parliament on Thursday.
He says if the world wants to avoid a repeat of the trauma suffered by victims in Bosnia, it must first focus on victims in Ukraine. Many people in Bosnia waited decades to come forward and the vast majority of sex crimes committed there went unpunished.
“Rape was one of the main aspects of the war in Bosnia and yet when you look at the Dayton peace accords, there were no women at the table, there were no survivors of sexual violence “related to the conflict,” said Emily Prey, one of the lead authors of the report, referring to the 1995 agreement that ended the war in Bosnia.
“They had no say in the peace negotiations, and so instead of real and lasting peace, the Dayton Accords only froze the conflict,” she told CNN.
Prey said that when looking at survivors of conflict-related sexual violence, it is crucial to put aside bias and stigma and ensure that all those affected are included.
“We often think that sexual violence is a crime that only happens to women, but it is a crime that happens to everyone. Women and girls, men, boys, people with diverse gender identities,” Prey said.
“Men who were victims of conflict-related sexual violence during the Bosnian War have just come forward to say that they survived the crime and therefore went decades without receiving the support they needed. And we see this in Ukraine as well.”
Prey added that children born from wartime rape are also often forgotten. Between 2,000 and 4,000 children were born from documented cases of war rape in Bosnia alone, although the true number is likely much higher.
“If we don’t think enough about conflict-related sexual violence, we especially don’t think about the children born from rape in times of war. In Bosnia, they were called the ‘invisible children’… and they have been fighting for years to be recognized because they have faced obstacles and difficulties throughout their lives,” she added.
The report also states that it will be crucial that Ukraine’s allies are prepared to pursue perpetrators on Ukraine’s behalf. This can occur either under the United Nations Genocide Convention or in national courts under the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows national or international courts to prosecute individuals for crimes against international law committed in other territories.
Prey said the recent case of a Bosnian Serb soldier accused of murder and rape and transferred from Bosnia to Montenegro, where the accused lived, was a good example of how well this mechanism works.
The International Criminal Court has already issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin and opened an investigation into alleged Russian war crimes in Ukraine. Several countries, including Lithuania, Germany, Sweden and Spain, have all opened their own investigations into alleged Russian atrocities.
However, Prey said these cases could be costly and lengthy, meaning more focus on providing immediate help to victims, including psychological and social support, free health care and free legal aid.
“They may not see any conclusion to a court case for 10 or 20 years,” she said. “And survivors of conflict-related sexual violence deserve more than that. They deserve justice for themselves, accountability, but they also need to live, they need to take care of their family, they need to pay their bills and they need support for that.