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Croatia: Legislation Gives Benefits to War-Time Rape Victims

(June 5, 2015) On May 29, 2015, by a vote of 86 to 3, the parliament of Croatia passed a law giving compensation to women and girls who were raped during the 1991-1995 war in which Croatia attained independence from the former Yugoslavia; the legislation will come into force in January 2016. (Taylor Gillan, Croatia Approves Law to Compensate War Rape Victims, PAPER CHASE (May 30, 2015); Darko Bandic, Croatian Lawmakers Approve Law That Compensates Rape Victims from War in 1990s, U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT (May 29, 2015).)

Under the new law, rape victims may receive a single payment of HRK100,000 (about US$14,500), in addition to a monthly HRK2,500allowance, free counseling, health care, and legal assistance. According to the Minister of Veterans’ Affairs, Fred Matic, this type of legislation “is rare in the world, and it is the first of its kind in this region whereby the victims will get a dignified one-off financial compensation.” (Gillan, supra.) Kosovo, another area that was part of the former Yugoslavia, did pass a law last year establishing in general terms the eligibility of rape victims from the conflict era for benefits, but nothing concrete was enacted to specify exactly what those benefits would be. (Zoran Radosavljevic, Croatia Passes Law to Compensate War Rape Victims, REUTERS (May 29, 2015).)

It is estimated that several thousand women were subjected to some type of sexual violence in the conflict 20 years ago, but only a few cases have come to the courts. Experts hope that more victims will now look for justice. (Bandic, supra.)

Reactions of Victims to Adoption of the Law

While this law comes many years after the crimes were committed, some victims appreciate what it accomplishes. According one woman, who together with her daughter was attacked repeatedly by Serbian soldiers in 1991, although the compensation is long overdue, it is “better late than never. … Justice is not just a word. Sure, the law will change my life … financially, but more than everything I am a human being again.” A victim of sexual assault by a Croatian soldier from the same conflict noted, however, “no money can compensate what happened to me and my children. … I just want to see justice done.” (Id.)

Another Croatian woman who was raped in 1991 was not as happy. She said that while the money will be useful to supplement her small pension, “if I got billions, it could not pay for what we went through. … The law and the compensation are worth nothing if the perpetrators continue to walk free. I want them to answer for their crimes, to say why they came … to kill and rape.” (Radosavljevic, supra.)

The legislation was hailed, however, by Marija Sliskovic of the civic group Women in the Homeland War. She noted, “[t]his law will be a model for all other countries at war, which will have to deal with this issue and can now look up to Croatia” (Id.)

Security Council Resolution

The United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution that declared that sexual violence, including rape, could be considered a war crime. (Security Council Resolution, S/RES/1820 (2008) (June 19, 2008), SECURITY COUNCIL REPORT.) Among other provisions, the resolution addressed the issue of justice for rape victims, stating “rape and other forms of sexual violence can constitute a war crime, a crime against humanity, or a constitutive act with respect to genocide” and argued for the “exclusion of sexual violence crimes from amnesty provisions in the context of conflict resolution processes … .” Further, the resolution called on “Member States to comply with their obligations for prosecuting persons responsible for such acts, to ensure that all victims of sexual violence … have equal protection under the law and equal access to justice.” (Id. ¶ 4.)