By Violeta Krasnić, Program Director for Europe and Central Asia
In theaters now, “In the Land of Blood and Honey” is set against the backdrop of the Bosnian war that killed 100,000 and displaced half of country’s four million people in the early 1990s. The film tells the story of two Bosnians from different sides of a brutal ethnic conflict, bringing into focus the use of rape as a weapon of war.
While war rape has been recorded throughout the history, it was the Bosnian war that opened the eyes of the world to the scale of sexual violence crimes inflicted on women because of their gender.
Like the main character, Ajla, an artist and a Muslim, women of Bosnia and Herzegovina have suffered horrific crimes of sexual violence that left long-lasting scars. It is estimated that up to 50,000 women of all ethnic groups, the majority of whom were Bosnian Muslims, were raped by members of military, security and paramilitary groups.
Justice Not Yet Achieved
Underreported even in peacetime, and notorious for being the cheapest war weapon, rape was used to tear families and communities apart. It is because of the courage and resilience of women survivors who came forward to testify that the international civil society campaigned for the recognition and prosecution of war rape under international law. As a result, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) became the first tribunal ever to prosecute war rape as an independent crime against humanity.
Nevertheless, nearly 20 years later, justice is yet to be achieved for many women living in Bosnia and Herzegovina. War rape remains a taboo issue. Survivors are stigmatized and lack adequate social and medial assistance; it is estimated that over 90 percent of war rape survivors do not receive treatment. Despite prosecution in international and domestic courts, impunity reins in place of meaningful justice as perpetrators walk freely in the communities from which survivors were displaced.
When State Institutions Falter
Further, as women’s organizations have documented, the continuum of violence and discrimination against women the years of war and military conflict have proven that violence against women precedes wars, escalates during, and increases in the aftermath of such conflicts. When state institutions falter in efforts to provide for safety, human security, and justice, civil society and women’s organizations, many of them Global Fund for Women grantees, step in to provide needed services and political platform.
Global Fund has been grantmaking in the countries of former Yugoslavia for close to 20 years. While relief aid is the traditional philanthropic response to conflict, Global Fund takes a different approach. By strengthening women-led civil society, including movements to protect women’s human rights and support women leaders, Global Fund uniquely meets a critical need in conflict regions.
Recently launched Women’s Court for the Crimes in the Former Yugoslavia is an example of groundbreaking effort in achieving gender justice, accountability, and peace. A network of seven women’s groups from four countries, Women’s Court intends to establish a new, alternative, and safe political space for women’s vision of justice in communities to become reality.
Learn more about crimes against women during the Bosnian War and the efforts of women's organizations to achieve gender justice:
- Read how women around the world are confronting war and militarism »
- Watch PBS' Women, War & Peace, episode "I Came to Testify", produced by Global Fund board member, Abigail Disney »
- Browse the Women, War & Peace website for interviews and resources about the region's history »
- Read Amnesty International's report on justice not yet served for women raped during the war »
- Watch videos about the making of "In the Land of Blood and Honey" »
- Read about the United Nation's resolution that identifies rape as a tactic of war »