Helen Clark pledges UNDP support to victims of wartime sexual violence

21 Jan 2013

image victims of wartime sexual violence/ photo by: Inia Herenčić
At the signing of the new USD 175,000 worth project to address the needs of victims of wartime rape and other sexual violence, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator Helen Clark reconfirmed the priority that UNDP puts on fighting violence against women. The project agreement was signed by UNDP Resident Representative in Croatia Louisa Vinton, Minister of War Veterans Predrag Fred Matić and the President of the Women in the Homeland War Association Marija Slišković, together with Swiss Ambassador Denis Knobel, as Switzerland is providing initial funding.
 
"For the survivors of wartime sexual violence, the distance between them and the war has not brought peace to their hearts or their minds. As in many other countries, they have been left to cope with the consequences on their own," warned Clark. "For the United Nations, for UNDP, and for me personally, there is no more important challenge today than eliminating violence against women in all its forms, including its most despicable manifestation of wartime sexual violence, and ending the impunity that perpetrators so often enjoy."
 
The signed agreements include providing legal support to the Ministry of War Veterans in drafting legislation to award the status of "civilian victim of war" to survivors of sexual violence from the 1991-95 war; providing psychosocial support and other assistance to survivors; assisting law enforcement in the prosecution of cases of wartime rape; and encouraging victims who remain silent to come forward for justice, recognition, and compensation. 
 
"The Law that we are preparing is a sign of political will but also moral and social responsibility to punish all perpetrators of sexual crimes and to provide all necessary support and assistance to all abused persons so that they can participate in social life freely and with dignity," said Matić
 
"That 20 years have passed with virtually no action is powerful illustration of the adage Justice delayed is justice denied," said Vinton. "With the project agreement that we are signing today, we are forging a partnership committed to help remedy the situation." 
 
According to rough estimates, as many as 1,500 women confined in detention centres survived some form of sexual violence. In addition, up to 1,000 more women who lived in remote areas under occupation probably experienced sexual assault. Thus, according to rough estimates, around 2,500 women in Croatia experienced some form of sexual assault during the war. The issue of sexual violence in war against men has never been addressed, but it is known that assaults against them were also common in detention centers. 
 
The state has on record only 67 cases of civilian victims of sexual violence; fewer than 20 prosecutions have been attempted, and only a several convictions have been handed down. For most victims, there has been no justice: their legal status is not recognized nor support they need and deserve has not been provided. 
 
"With this trauma, women have lived for 20 years. The society was quiet, and yet, it was known. Political regulations and wrong interpretation of abolition after the war made these women go through a new trauma," said Slišković. "They do not have a status of victim, nor appropriate material compensation, their health is fragile with scarce financial resources." 
 
Slišković continued that the obstacle that remains is to tackle the slow administrative and legal system, and to fulfill what is being talked about – legal and social care. 
 
"Through this innovative partnership, our project aims to concretely implement basic rights and deliver appropriate services and treatments to the victims," said Knobel. „With dozens of projects throughout the region, we tried to support victims, to promote groups and partners in order to overcome the unresolved legacy and to find facts and truths in view of justice and reconciliation. And Switzerland will stay committed also in the future." 
 
Upon a request from President Ivo Josipović, UNDP helped the group of Vukovar women bring their message to the wider public, by organizing a round-table discussion with main actors responsible for legislation and service provision. The group consists of 20 survivors who are actively engaged in seeking recognition, legal status, justice and support, as well reaching out to other territories in Croatia that have been occupied or where there were war detention centres and prisons, and other localities where sexual violence was reported to have taken place. 
 
Clark is in a four-day visit to Croatia where she presides at the annual regional meeting of UNDP Resident Representatives from Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia, which brings together 70 top UN officials from more than 24 countries. Clark also met with First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign and European Affairs Vesna Pusić. Later in the day she will meet with President Ivo Josipović.