Conference „Support to witnesses/victims in BiH?“

On the 12th November 2015, during the opening session of the two-day conference „Support to witnesses/victims in BiH?“ which is organized by 4 nongovernmental organizations „Medica“ Zenica, Vive žene, Udružene žene Banja Luka and ACED Banja Luka, and attended by about 200 representatives of government institutions, nongovernmental and international organizations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, H.E. Edward Ferguson, ambassador of the Great Britain in BiH, made a speech to media and eminent participants.  During the press conference, H.E. Edward Ferguson pointed out the importance of work of nongovernmental organizations and recognition of their work and that politicians, leaders learn from experiences of NGOs and support the work of nongovernmental organizations. Also, he pointed out that the priority within the Reform Agenda of the European Union, must be given to the reform of social protection specifically to the harmonization of approaches in supporting survivors/witnesses at all levels in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Below is full speech of H.E. Edward Ferguson from the opening sessions of the conference. 

 “Thank you for inviting me to be a part of this important conference. The UK has been proud to support the establishment of institutional support networks, of the kind provided by inspiring organizations like Medica Zenica, Udruzene zene Banja Luka , Vive zene Tuzla and ACED as part of our global efforts to raise awareness about the terrible and enduring consequences of sexual violence in conflict. Exactly one year ago, we launched the International Protocol on the Investigation and Documentation of Sexual Violence in the BiH Parliament all around the country – from Sarajevo to Banja Luka, Mostar, Brcko and Zenica. The Protocol sets out International standards on how to collect the strongest possible information and evidence of sexual violence, whilst carefully protecting witnesses, in order to increase convictions and defer future perpetrators. This evidence is also important to provide a sound basis for targeting medical financial and other support. I want to emphasize the point about protecting and supporting witnesses, because it’s so important. One of the things we sought to do in the London Summit and in the huge amount of publicity surrounding it, was to tackle the stigma of rape. Survivors of sexual violence are often amazing and courageous people who deserve our compassion, our respect and our support.  But, too often those who have suffered from these terrible crimes experience marginalization and exclusion by their families and their communities. This adds injustice to injustice. So when survivors make the incredibly brave decision to come forward and to testify against their attackers, they are fighting two battles. The first is a personal one, in the process of giving evidence they must re-live their own physical and psychological experiences.  And the second is a more public one, in that they risk opening themselves up to scrutiny and comment from their communities. Persecutors need to be aware of, and sensitive to, the impact that testimony can have on survivors. Amongst other things, this applies to case handling, so that survivors do not have to give evidence in multiple trials. But, all too often, survivors of sexual violence still do not get the support they need. Recently, though, we have seen some good news. In July this year, the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina issued two verdicts in which for the first time ever compensation for damages were recognized to survivors of wartime  sexual violence through criminal procedure. I hope that this will pave the way for many other survivors to get the compensation they deserve. I want to leave you with two messages. The first is a call for political leaders, particularly at the entity level, to engage with these organizations, and to ask for their advice. They know better than anyone how best to help and to support the survivors that they deal with on a daily basis. It is the organizations like these that, together with families and communities, can make the key difference to whether survivors of suck crimes can regain their dignity and make a positive contribution to their societies. That’s why the UK is committed to supporting Medica Zenica and Udruzene zene Banja Luka in establishing institutional networks in 10 municipalities (our project) across the country which will provide necessary support to survivors. And the second is to say that there is now an opportunity to use the reforms to social welfare that are envisaged under the Reform Agenda, agreed by the State and Entity Governments, to make changes in order to help survivors of sexual violence – many of whom, twenty years  later, are living in poverty and need both financial and psychological support. Ladies and gentlemen, sexual violence affects hundreds of thousands of women and girls, men and boys, all over the world. In addition to their personal traumas of the survivors, sexual violence creates divisions within communities and undermines peace-building and stabilization efforts. The UK believes that we must all do more to tackle this problem of wartime rape, to support survivors and to bring criminals to justice. And it is in that spirit that I comment to you today’s conference.”