According to experts, the legal regulations on domestic violence and violence against women in Bosnia and Herzegovina are relatively good, but their consistent implementation is still necessary, as is securing equal access to the system throughout the country.
Domestic violence is defined as any act of physical, sexual, psychological, or economic violence that occurs within the family or domestic unit, or between former or current spouses or partners, regardless of whether the perpetrator resides at the same residence as the victim. This definition is an integral part of the Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, which was adopted by the Council of Europe in Istanbul on May 11th, 2011.
Bosnia and Herzegovina has ratified this Convention, known as the Istanbul Convention, thus committing to the legal establishment of an efficient system for preventing and combating violence against women.
Azra Berbić, a lawyer and activist, believes that the Istanbul Convention has not been fully implemented in the sense that institutions do not have clearly developed procedures for how to respond to cases of violence.
“Bosnia and Herzegovina has committed itself to ratifying the victim protection system with the standards of the Convention, but there are still no harmonized mechanisms. We also have a legal framework that is somewhat in line with the Convention, but it is not being implemented effectively, and that is a big problem,” Berbić said.
Fatima Bećirović, an expert in the field of domestic violence and violence against women, believes that domestic violence should be defined as a crime with clear provisions for the adequate and timely punishment of perpetrators. Legal regulations should also clearly define mechanisms for assisting and protecting victims, including through social, psychological, and economic support, as well as medical care, legal aid, and other protective measures.
The problem of domestic violence and violence against women in Bosnia and Herzegovina has become visible in the last 10 to 15 years. According to available data, 52.8 percent of women in Bosnia and Herzegovina have suffered some form of violence. There are laws and strategies for the protection from domestic violence at both the entity and state levels.
“Legal regulations which define violence as a crime have been adopted. There are ratified international documents, trained experts, specialized non-governmental organizations and functioning safe houses, a free SOS hotline for victims of violence, a handful of professional events and campaigns, and the continuing adoption of strategic documents. To a lesser extent, preventive programs are also being implemented,” Bećirović explained.
As Berbić states, it is difficult to identify all cases of gender-based violence because women themselves often do not recognize that they are victims of it. Even if they are aware, Berbić believes that it is very rare for women to report a case of physical violence when it happens for the first time.
“After violence, repentance by the perpetrator usually occurs. Life turns into a fairy tale for a while as the perpetrator tries to redeem himself with his behavior. Then, he slowly tests the limits of that life again and physical violence is repeated. Reports mostly arise from situations when a woman feels truly threatened for the first time or when she really doesn’t see a way out of the situation anymore,” said Berbić.
According to Berbić, the various institutions responsible for taking care of domestic violence victims as well as for preventing the recurrence of violence are not well connected. She also believes that police officers, who are the first to arrive on the scene after violence is reported, do not respond adequately to domestic violence because they are not sufficiently trained to do so.
Bećirović believes that inequalities in the responses of authorities as well as in access to support systems are a bigger problem than legal provisions, which she considers to be relatively good. Therefore, Bećirović concludes that education is necessary to bring about a shift in the awareness and understanding of experts as well as in that of the general public.
“Preventive programs, continuous and obligatory training, campaigns, and other things are hugely important to make the process of protecting victims of violence more effective and comprehensive, and to ensure perpetrators of violence are more strictly and adequately punished with longer sentences,” says Bećirović.