This month, the Croatian government announced its backing for legislation, set to be voted in May, entitling rape war crime victims to a one-time compensation payment of up to 20,000 euros ($21,500), a 320 euro ($340) monthly allowance, health care, psychological counseling and legal aid.
“The focus of the law is on the victim, without the need to detail or emphasise the person who committed the war crime of rape, however, it’s necessary to emphasise the perpetrator’s military characteristics in order to make a distinction from a civil perpetrator,” said Vesna Nadj, deputy veterans’ minister.
“Until now, victims have had to deal with their own trauma privately. Now, they will finally be seen by society,” says Marija Sliskovic, who runs Women in the Homeland, an NGO that has been advocating for rape victims’ rights since 2010, and helping them to heal.
Raped by some 20 men in Vukovar, Ruzica Erdelji-Barbaric fled her hometown during the war and returned in 1998. She lives off a 200 euro ($215) pension, and hopes the new compensation will help her live “a decent old age”. Barbaric, 63, insists other perpetrators must face justice. “I was raped and I want the people who did it to be punished,” she said. “Our wounds will never heal.”
War veterans’ minister Predrag Matic told the Croatian media recently that the compensation envisaged by the proposed law will be granted “based on trust”.
“A victim of sexual violence comes before the committee and tells what happened to her or him and gives accompanying documentation, if there is any. The commission will then decide whether they will get the status of a victim or not,” he said.
Minister Matic has emphasised that his government is the first to do anything about the war crime of rape and that they have shown a “political good will” to address compensation to victims of rape!
While compensation to victims of rape war crime is, in itself, a positive and needed move one cannot but scorn such statements by the veterans’ affairs minister. Such statements do strongly suggest that there is no substantial will to deal with the gravity of such crimes and their perpetrators. Furthermore, given that the grant of compensation will depend on “trust” the process announced for decision-making on compensation via a committee tied to the veterans’ ministry is fraught with likelihoods of political influences and subjective interpretations on committee members.
This law would seem to fit into the concept of “victims of crime compensation” known to societies throughout the democratic developed world. The only difference is, that in the democratically developed world there’s genuine pursuit of justice against the perpetrator and in this case there seems to be no efforts by the Croatian authorities to seek reparations from Serbia whose citizens, at its instigation, committed these war crimes!
This brings me to a pertinent issue: Serbia is desirous of becoming an EU member and as such it would be required to respect the democratic standards inherent to EU membership. One of these standards is respecting and complying with agreements signed with other countries. One of such agreements is the Agreement on Normalization of Relations between the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the Republic of Croatia, 23rd August 1996.
The joint committee (Croatia – Federal Republic of Yugoslavia/Serbia & Montenegro) met a few times (last time in 1999) after the signing of the said agreement, without any progress being made as to reparations for war damages. Serbian members rejected Croatia’s draft on compensation for damages submitted in July 1998 under the false guise that the 1990’s war was a civil war and, therefore, each state should sustain/compensate for damages arisen on its own territory! Not an inch of Serbia’s territory was under attack, of course. Croatia could not agree to such a legally and factually unfounded premise and considered that its responsibility lay in compensation for war damages that occurred on the territory under the control of the Croatian authorities and not for those that occurred in its occupied territories under the control of the Yugoslav army, i.e. Serbia and Montenegro, and the rebel Serbs in the Krajina region.
War damages to Croatia sustained between 1990 and 1999 are estimated to be in the vicinity of 32,5 Billion Euro. At the end of 1999 Croatia filed a lawsuit against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (later changed to Serbia as Montenegro left the union with Serbia) at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for genocide and seeking compensation for war damages. When Social Democrats won government in Croatia, in 2000, Prime Minister Ivica Racan suspended all activities to do with the abovesaid 1996 Agreement, pending ICJ verdict. Despite that, Serbia had continued to raised the question of restoring the property to Serb minority that had fled Croatia during the war years, criticising Croatia that not enough is being done on that front even though Croatia had, to September 2014, spent 5.5 Billion Euro from its budget in the implementation of the national program securing the return of refugees and their housing.
In its February 2015 verdict the ICJ had decided that while acts of genocide were committed in various areas of Croatia there was no genocide committed by either side (Croatia or Serbia) as a whole but there was no doubt as to the fact that Serb aggression against Croatia, on Croatia’s sovereign territory, so to speak, did occur.
Croatian parliament had on 21st October 2011 upheld the Declaration on promoting European values in South-East Europe and it has been heard on several occasions that Croatia will not, as an EU member state, use that position in obstructing Serbia’s negotiations for EU membership. However this Declaration does not mean that Croatia should renounce its rights and national interests.
It’s high time to put a stop to political juggling and “political good will” (as minister Matic put it in the case of war crime of rape) and bring the matter of compensation for war damages to Croatia to the table, along with other open questions such as the missing, the Vukovar medical archives, the processing of war criminals, the return of stolen art treasure, the landmines’ plan etc.). An official meeting between Croatia’s new President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic and Serbia’s Tomislav Nikolic would seem to be an ideal opportunity to start “the ball rolling” in the right and practical direction. There’s been enough politicisation on the issue of compensation for war damages and the tide needs to turn towards actual and concrete demands to Serbia for payment. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)