Croatia adopts law recognizing rape as a war crime
The Global Fund for Women reports that on 29 May the Croatian Parliament passed legislation recognizing rape as a war crime. It will take effect in January and compensate war rape survivors through free counseling, legal and medical aid and a monthly financial stipend.
Systematic rape was used to intimidate communities during the Yugoslav war of the 1990s. Since the war formally ended in 1995, victims of war rape have not until now been considered civilian war victims by the Croatian Government and have not been entitled to compensation or medical services, including psychological counseling.
“Women survivors, with the exception of rare cases, were generally without financial support, unemployed and with significantly decreased labor capacities as a consequence of survived trauma,” explains Nela Pamukovic, co-founder of the Centre for Women War Victims (ROSA) in Zagreb, Croatia, a long-time Global Fund for Women grantee partner. “They have been living with their traumas kept inside.”
In 2010, ROSA started the Women’s Court Initiative with six other women’s groups from the former Yugoslavia to give women and girls who have experienced gender-based violence a safe space to share their stories and learn about their rights, to provide access to legal services for those filing criminal charges against perpetrators, and to strengthen cross-border ties. “We recognized that we should [take action] about the status of women who survived rape and became invisible,” said Pamukovic.
“Many of these women survivors live in very poor conditions; many of them are deeply traumatized by the situation – they haven’t told anyone,” Pamukovic said. “Many of them hadn’t even asked for their basic rights that they have as poor citizens because they are so traumatized.”
Women will have to submit applications to be recognized as survivors in order to secure compensation, and ROSA will support them with the process, guiding them through government requirements and providing psychological support. ROSA will now focus on addressing issues in the final version of the law because, as Pamukovic explains, it “is not in favor of the victims” and has narrowed the scope of rights for survivors, removing mention of housing assistance.
In addition to these advocacy efforts, ROSA plans to set up a special website to try to reach as many women as possible who might be able to access rights under the law. ROSA will also reach out to psychiatric hospitals where many women go for trauma counseling and support, and will train doctors and the directors of hospitals to provide information on the new law.
“These women have been living in silence, at the margins of our society, surrounded by their painful memories. They did not speak at all, or spoke very rarely about their hard experiences,” said Pamukovic. “Therefore it is of great importance that this law was finally brought [to fruition], even after more than 20 years from the time when the crimes were committed.”
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