Impunity Watch: Cases of Gender and Post-Conflict Transitional Justice
This is a call to policymakers, who work to formulate policy to prevent the recurrence of genocide. How do we give a voice to survivors? How do we pay appropriate attention to victims of gender-based violence (GBV), as specific crimes, that can be a tool of genocide? Impunity Watch’s report, “Giving a voice to victims: Towards gender-sensitive processes of TJRNR in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burundi and Guatemala” attempts to answer these significant questions. The main goal of the report is to provide analysis and recommendations for policymakers to reach gender-sensitive goals in rebuilding plans, to prevent future incidences of genocidal violence.
Impunity Watch, an organization promoting accountability for past international atrocities in violent, conflict-affected countries, released a series of reports on December 18, 2012 about transitional justice and gender. The reports provide an in-depth look at justice, peace, and truth-telling processes in Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH), Burundi, and Guatemala.
Why a Gendered Analysis?
Gender analysis has become increasingly significant when determining the ways in which conflict and rebuilding processes affect men and women. As notable scholars from The Feinstein International Center at Tufts University have recently reported, separating gender from significant fields, including international development, conflict management, humanitarian response, or policy-making, is neither feasible nor desirable, and will lead to incomplete conclusions about the effects of policymakers’ actions and impact.[i] The Impunity Watch reports aim to understand how gender, transitional justice, atrocities prevention, and post-conflict policies have been addressed in these three cases, providing both strengths and shortcomings.
This article will address the policies and recommendations (some new, some restated yet important) in the case of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and how the main stakeholders could “do better” to address women’s rights in the aftermath of conflict. In this first article, I will discuss the main findings and challenges in the case of Bosnia-Herzegovina. My next two articles will address the Impunity Watch reports on Burundi and Guatemala.
Gender-Sensitive Processes in Bosnia-Herzegovina
The 94-page report summarizes the main obstacles to promoting gender-sensitive peace, reconciliation, and non-recurrence. Frankly, it is more difficult for women to have access to, participate in, and benefit from processes of truth, justice, reparations and non-recurrence (TJRNR), since these do not take the needs of women into consideration in design or implementation. For example, a female internally displaced person (IDP) reclaiming property will often encounter prejudices and a lack of understanding within society, something a male IDP will likely not experience. Women looking for their missing husbands are not entitled to certain benefits from the Law on Missing Persons. Victims of wartime sexual violence (which are mainly women in BiH, though not exclusively) face major challenges in obtaining war-related compensation. In short, there is a clear need to integrate a gender-sensitive approach to processes of TJRNR, to better include both female and male victims. This will help transform the broader social context of trauma and post-conflict experiences and development.[ii]
Some positive progress has been made to advance gender-sensitive justice in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Currently, the Ministry for Human Rights and Refugees (MHRR) is steering the process of drafting a document entitled Program of Assistance to Women Victims of War Rape, Sexual Violence and Torture 2013-2016. This plan will also include male victims of wartime sexual violence.[iii]
Gender analysis can highlight how gender-based violence, including rape, forced prostitution, and enforced pregnancy, can be used as weapons of genocide; this is a new understanding in legal practice and policy. In the case of Bosnia, for example, forced pregnancy was used to try and create more ethnically desirable babies, thus further driving out minority communities. This link between GBV and genocide is a clear call to action for policy makers to pay attention to GBV as an instrument of genocide.
How Conflict in BiH Disparately Affected Women
The conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina, which lasted from 1992 until the Dayton Peace Accords in 1995, was between the region’s population of three ethnic groups, or ‘constituent peoples’: Bosniaks (48%), Serbs (37.1%), and Croats (14.3%).[iv] For more than 40 years the region was a federation of six republics: Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, and Slovenia, as well as two autonomous provinces: Vojvodina and Kosovo. In 1987, Slobodan Milošević came to power in Serbia, vividly encouraging Serbian nationalism and nurturing the idea of Greater Serbia. Based on this ideal, fighting ensued and a number of massacres took place, which led to an international crisis, including the use of war tactics and mass violence to drive out minority populations. After the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords negotiated an end to the conflict, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was established in 1996, to establish justice for the region, and ideally to promote a lasting peace. A number of perpetrators indicted by the ICTY were charged with crimes of genocide.
In Srebrenica, one of the most well-known massacres of the war, the men were separated from the women and killed systematically, which left psychological, legal, economic, and social difficulties for the women survivors. More research has been done on the massacre at Srebrenica and the gendered pattern of violence there.
Shortcomings of the Process in BiH
- In the processes related to truth, women’s participation so far has been limited.
- When it comes to guarantees of non-recurrence, it appears that a rather one-sided picture after the conflict in BiH has been created, whereby women are mostly seen as victims of the war, while men are mostly seen as heroes.
- While women make up one half of the Expert Working Group that drafted the Transitional Justice Strategy, and the president of the EWG is a woman, judging from the first draft of the TJS, there is room for improvement regarding the issue of gender-sensitivity. Sexual violence was widely excluded in the document, and a more widespread support from civil society organizations (CSOs) was lacking.
Recommendations for Rebuilding and Non-Recurrence
Key recommendations highlight where the process in BiH can go to improve gender sensitivity and the rights and status of women. The recommendations also show the link between GBV and genocide. Some recommendations are as basic as institutional reform, and ensuring that institutions include an integrated gender-sensitive perspective in their research and recommendations. Gender/sex disaggregated data is also needed, especially with regard to crimes of sexual violence. [v]
New recommendations, specific to BiH, are noteworthy, and can serve as examples for other post-conflict cases looking to address the same issues of gender and transitional justice. These cover four main categories of change:
- Technical changes, including the male/female composition of committees, political appointments, etc. I would also suggest more data collection and dissemination of data about atrocities, to better understand and analyze the gendered effects of the conflict.
- Legal changes, including women’s access to reparations (a large section on this topic in the report concludes that women hit many barriers when claiming reparations for crimes committed during the conflict, and often fall through the cracks of what crimes are legally recognized).
- Societal changes, including making processes more accessible and open to women, providing economic opportunities to women in the post-conflict economy, and continuing to provide funding and support for the implementation of the National Action Plan on UNSCR 1325.
- Structural changes, including encouraging participation by women and civil society in relevant TJRNR processes, particularly those related to integrating a gender-sensitive approach in the latter (such as the Program for Assistance to Women Victims of War Rape, Other Forms of Sexual Violence and Torture 2013-2016); creating a space for women to testify to the ICTY and to tell their stories.
The Impunity Watch report outlines a holistic transitional justice strategy to address gender-sensitive rebuilding and links to prevention of mass atrocities in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Empowering women and changing the narrative of women solely as victims, while recognizing the reality of gender-based crimes as planned tools of genocide (see the work of Hugo Slim, Cynthia Enloe, and Ximena Bunster), can allow policymakers to pay attention to gendered aspects of conflict, rebuilding, and non-recurrence.