Inter-religious Contribution to Peace and Stability in BiH – Support to Survivors of Conflict-related Sexual Violence 

19 June 2019

Sarajevo, 19th June 2019 – On 19th June, the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, a public discussion on "Inter-religious Contribution to Peace and Stability in BiH - Support to Survivors of Conflict-related Sexual violence" was held at Gazi Husrev-beg's Library in Sarajevo. Distinguished representatives and leaders of the Inter-religious Council: Deputy of the Reis-ul-Ulama Husein ef. Smajić; Metropolitan of Dabar-Bosnia, Hrizostom; H.E. archbishop Vinko Cardinal Puljić and Mr Jakob Finci chairman of Inter-religious Council and president  of Jewish community in Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as UNFPA Representative Aynabat Annamuhamedova, had the honor to host the UK Prime Minister's Special Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict, Lord (Tariq) Ahmad of Wimbledon.

The UK Government has been supporting the Inter-Religious Council for a long time in its efforts to reduce the stigmatization of conflict-related sexual violence survivors, hence Lord Ahmada's visit today.

Lord Ahmad thanked the Inter-religious Council of Bosnia and Herzegovina for its great efforts invested in resolving the issue of conflict-related sexual violence and stressed: "Faith leaders can do a great deal to support survivors. Under the leadership of the Inter-Religious Council, Bosnia and Herzegovina has made great strides in tackling the stigma associated with sexual violence in conflict. We strongly believe BiH's experience deserves wider regional and international recognition, offering clear and simple lessons in peace building. We are proud to have supported BiH in this process, including through increasing access to justice, service provision for survivors, and innovative partnerships with faith-based organizations, youth groups and the media."

He also announced a major international conference on the prevention of conflict-related sexual  violence, that will take place in London in November, just five years after the previous major summit on the issue.

“We will agree concrete actions with our international partners that make real change to the lives of survivors, and will be asking leaders of all faiths and beliefs to unite in signing a declaration of humanity which universally rejects the stigma attached to survivors of sexual violence and children born of rape. I hope the progress BiH has made and the lessons you have learned will feature in the conference, enabling us to support survivors better in other countries," said Lord Ahmad.

The discussion was opened by the Chairman of Inter-religious Council and the President of the Jewish Community in BiH, Mr Jakob Finci, who emphasized the importance of the role of religious communities that have been active in peace building for many years, and the importance of the Inter-religious Council, devoted to addressing the issue of conflict-related sexual violence ever since 2017, when it adopted the Joint Declaration of the Interreligious Council on denouncing stigmatization of survivors of sexual violence in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and 2018, when it developed a Manual of the Inter-religious Council in Bosnia and Herzegovina for members of the clergy working with survivors of conflict related sexual violence.

"When we talk about the violence that happened to us, we also talk about stigmatization. Stigmatization is a word that explains what turns seemingly innocent comments into sleepless nights. Stigmatization is the fear that tells us that we will have to defend ourselves and justify how and why it happened to us, even after all these decades," said a survivor  of conflict-related sexual violence, who addressed the gathering.

The discussion gathered around 200 people, representatives of religious communities, public institutions, civil society and the international community, and provided the opportunity to open a dialogue on the importance of continuous psychosocial support as an effective tool for preventing the intergenerational transfer of conflict trauma.

"Survivors’ pain and trauma cannot be annulled by anyone’s actions. However, it is well within our realm of abilities to create support systems that are responsive to survivors’ needs; to pursue justice and fight impunity; and to alleviate and put an end to stigmatizing narratives and attitudes that are preventing survivors from reintegrating into communities," said Dr. Aynabat Annamuhamedova, UNFPA Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The public discussion will serve as an introduction to a regional conference of religious communities that the Inter-religious Council plans to organize in late September, and will be committed to working together to build peace and to mitigate the intergenerational transfer of conflict trauma in the Western Balkans.