The coalition of non-governmental organizations consisting of the Autonomous Women's Center, the Humanitarian Law Center, Women in Black and the Youth Initiative for Human Rights, within the Public Debate, sent comments on the Draft National Strategy for Preventing and Combating Gender-Based Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (2021-2025). The main objection refers to the need that a strategic document dealing with the problem of gender-based violence against women recognize and name sexual violence in armed conflicts as a form of gender-based violence against women, and accordingly envisage women victims of rape and violence in armed conflicts as one from the category of women whose rights are guaranteed by this strategy. The Coalition claims that this is an international obligation of the Republic of Serbia arising from a number of ratified international agreements mentioned, among others, in section 1.2 Key International Acts and Regulations of National Legislation, Proposal of National Strategy for Preventing and Combating Gender-Based Violence in the family for the period from 2021 to 2025.
Acts of war rape are still taboo topics in the Balkans, especially in Serbia, and the victims are burdened with guilt and shame as a consequence of the patriarchy that is deeply rooted in this area. For this reason, these victims rarely report violence; they are not instructed in what way and to whom they can turn, and very often they are of poor financial status and cannot provide themselves with legal or psychological support. For these reasons, the institutions of the Republic of Serbia should envisage this category of women as a particularly sensitive group of victims.
This category of victims needs support through empowerment before prosecuting these crimes; free legal aid from lawyers who have experience in representing this category of victims; free and continuous psychological support, as well as the right to compensation that will be realized in criminal proceedings through a property claim, or by acquiring the status of a civilian victim of war in a special administrative procedure.
In this regard, the Coalition considers it necessary that:
- Victims of rape and sexual violence in war be recognized as a category of victims of gender-based violence in the National Strategy Proposal;
- This category of victims be provided with comprehensive support from the institutions of the Republic of Serbia, which would include: legal, health, psychological, social and any other support;
- That the cases involving rape and sexual violence during armed conflict be given priority in the work of the War Crimes Prosecutor's Office, who are responsible for prosecuting these crimes;
- That in war crimes proceedings before the courts in the Republic of Serbia, victims of rape and sexual violence in war be always awarded a property claim, in order to avoid re-traumatization by initiating compensation proceedings;
- That in the event that the victims of these crimes were not awarded a property claim during the criminal proceedings, and if during the proceedings they had an identity protection measure, that measure be retained during the litigation for damages (reparations);
- The Law on the Rights of Veterans, War Invalids, Civilian War Invalids and Members of Their Families be amended, so that women victims of rape in war could obtain the status of civilian victims of war.
All comments are available at this link.