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Vukovar: Roundtable "Sexual Violence in the War and the Prosecution of the Perpetrators of Sexual Violence"

Although the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia has established that rape in the time of war as well as sexual harassment constitute war crimes, in Croatia, even after two decades, the victims of rape are still awaiting justice, recognition and support.

In Vukovar on April 3, organized by the UN in Croatia and the City of Vukovar, supported by the Office of the President of Croatia and moderated by the presidential advisor Zrinka Vrabec Mojzeš, a roundtable was held on the issue of wartime rape in order to draw attention to rape victims and motivate state institutions to respond to the victims’ needs and punish the perpetrators of crimes against women.

The roundtable speakers were Luisa Vuton for the UN Croatia, the Minister of War Veterans Predrag Matić, and the representatives of the Ministries of Justice, Health, and Social Policy and Youth. Neither victims nor civil society organizations are satisfied with the work of the ministries that are supposed to take care of victims and/or prosecute criminals. They warned about the inequality of support that is granted to Croatian veterans and about the complete absence of institutional support and benefits for victims of sexual violence. Marija Slišković, president of Women in the Homeland War Association, warned that victims of wartime rape and sexual violence in general have no special status or special rights, while the perpetrators are still at large. The testimonies of two women who survived rape in the wartime Vukovar only confirmed how important it is to support the victims. Referring to her own experience of giving counseling to victims from Bosnia and Herzegovina in Medica Zenica, Marijana Senjak spoke about the necessity of a comprehensive approach to victim recovery, and Vesna Teršelić from Documenta warned that up to now only 17 prosecutions in Croatia dealt with cases of sexual violence, and that only few verdicts have been passed, and most of them in absentia.

The roundtable was also attended by our dear friend Eve Ensler, an American writer and activist, author of The Vagina Monologues, a show that raises public awareness about violence against women. Eve, who visited Croatia during the war on several occasions and supported the Center for Women War Victims, spoke about the need to empower and support the victims so they would take on leadership roles in their community. V-Day is a global movement to end violence against women founded by Eve 14 years ago, which supports women around the world and is particularly invested in providing support to rape victims in D.R. Congo. She also invited everyone to join the global campaign to end violence against women One billion rising (for more, see www.vday.org).

Last year, the Center organized a V-Day performance of The Vagina Monologues for /with women with disabilities at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Eve Ensler's speech in Vukovar: www.youtube.com/watch?v=ee_szCPWnmk by UN in Croatia