The Duchess of Cornwall in Osijek on Tuesday met members of an association helping victims of sexual violence in war, telling them they had done the right thing by encouraging women to break the silence, seek help and legal protection, and congratulating them on an excellent job.
Duchess Camilla talked with Marijana Senjak of the state commission which awards Homeland War sexual victim status, Visnja Misin, a lawyer representing victims in court, and Ruzica Ramljak of the Suncica association, which helps victims.
Senjak informed the duchess that Croatia passed a law on the rights of victims of sexual violence in the 1991-95 Homeland War in mid-2015. In drawing up the law, the War Veterans Ministry worked together with the UN Development Programme and the British Embassy Zagreb. The law contains all relevant UN conventions and regulations, and is one of the first and more comprehensive laws regulating the needs of sexual war victims in the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia.
Misin said that during the Homeland War 3,000 women, children and men were subjected to major sexual violence, but that the police, the prosecution and civil society organisations were officially investigating only 147 cases. Even in cases when the victims came forward and testified, only 36 indictments have been filed and 15 convictions handed down, she said, adding that some victims had died, as 25 years had passed since the war.
"Representing victims of the worst sexual violence is extremely difficult. Many women can't talk about what they went through because, with every testimony, they relive it," the attorney said.
She described to the duchess one of her most difficult cases, that of a woman from Vukovar who was 23 in 1991. After being captured, she was taken to a concentration camp in Sremska Mitrovica, Serbia where she was systematically raped for nine months by an unknown number of guards, soldiers and paramilitaries. She remained pregnant but lost the baby in the seventh month of pregnancy on the floor of a cold cell. "We want to believe that the wheels of justice grind slow but grind fine," Misin said.
The Suncica association was named after an eight-month-old baby whose mother was raped by Serb paramilitaries in 1991. "Our association is financed through donations and works on collecting testimonies and evidence as well as on winning victims' trust so that they can talk about their experiences, helping them prepare to testify in court," said Ramljak.
The duchess of Cornwall welcomed the efforts of all those helping victims of sexual violence.
You have done the right thing. You have encouraged women to break the silence, seek help and legal protection. We hope that their example will encourage other women victims to talk about what they went through. I congratulate you on the excellent job you are doing, Camilla said.