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The new report by Impunity Watch, entitled ‘Balkan Chronicle: Gender Equality, Transitional Justice and the International Community’, was launched on Friday in Sarajevo as part of BIRN’s Transitional Justice Programme.
The report criticises the attitudes of former Yugoslav states to gender justice, saying that authorities have focused exclusively on criminal prosecutions for sexual violence and not addressed underlying problems within society.
“Gender equality and transitional justice policy in the region has been mostly limited to pushing for legally addressing conflict-related sexual violence; the visible side of the violence perpetrated in the conflicts of the 90s. This has presented women as ‘helpless victims’ and prevented them from becoming and being seen as empowered survivors,” the report says.
“Policy on transitional justice has failed in particular to address the root causes, the more structural causes for violence, including the ongoing economic harm, social stigmatisation and discrimination that is responsible for violence against women, but often invisible, throughout the history of the region of the former Yugoslavia,” it adds.
The report also insists that “leaving root causes unaddressed and focusing only on the symptoms, the visible side of violence (e.g. rape and torture), will, however, fail to make a real transformative and sustainable difference for the life of women in the region”.
Thomas Unger of Impunity Watch said that the failure to solve crimes against women was the biggest obstacle to justice, but that authorities in the region were incapable of making progress.
“We must deal with a structure that is hostile towards gender equality,” he said.
BIRN’s regional director Marija Ristic said that sometimes legislation was adopted, but never properly implemented.
“Many laws relating to the equality of women have been introduced, but in most countries they remain a dead letter,” Ristic said.
Hatidza Gusic of BIRN, who is also one of the authors of a book entitled ‘Women of Bosnia and Herzegovina’, said that women were often stigmatised for becoming the victims of sexual violence.
“They must not talk about that, because they will be blamed and victimised again,” Gusic said.
“We must work on changing those narratives and opinion every day. Speak about that and work on that. As they say: ‘A woman’s work is never done,’” she added.
The event was part of BIRN’s Transitional Justice Programme, a regional initiative that aims to improve the general public’s understanding of transitional justice in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia. The programme is supported by the European Commission.