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Sarajevo, 26 September 2019 - On 25th and 26th of September 2019, a regional conference was hosted in Sarajevo by the Inter-Religious Council of Bosnia and Herzegovina (IRC), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), with the support of the British Embassy in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The main topic of the conference was sustaining peace through trust-building and reconciliation, with the aim of supporting war trauma survivors.

The conference was opened by IRC Chairman in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mr. Jakob Finci, as he emphasized that it is never too late to reconcile and build peace. Distinguished representatives and leaders of the Inter-Religious Council, Husein ef. Smajić, Metropolitan Chrysostom, and Archbishop Vinko Cardinal Puljić, also stressed the importance of the role of religious communities in building and sustaining peace as well as support to survivors of conflict-related sexual violence.

"The aim of this conference is to work together to overcome the division between communities, and, with the help of faith, work on peace-building for which it is never too late. The second aim is to support survivors of conflict-related sexual violence, for whom faith is a great support system in their struggles. We need to broaden our views and stop the stigmatizing that we, consciously or unconsciously, do,” said Mr Finci.

Dr Aynabat Atayeva, UNFPA representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina, stressed the importance of continuously combating stigma in order to finally draw the line and prevent the trans-generational spread of trauma.

"It is very important that we talk about survivors of conflict-related sexual violence. The issue of stigmatization will not disappear on its own, and if we do not act, it will be constantly carried on further onto the family and the whole community. We all need to work together on this issue, especially with the help of religious communities. This is an opportunity for us to invest in women and young activists and increase their capacities, as they play a key role in this process,” stated Dr. Atayeva.

The conference brought together representatives of religious communities and organizations from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, North Macedonia and Kosovo (UNSCR 1244), as well as survivor associations, representatives of political institutions, academia, civil societies, the United Nations and other international institutions in Southeast Europe. The exchange of experience made concrete proposals to improve the current situation based on spreading messages of peace and mutual understanding, and concluded that religious communities have a key role in this struggle.

"The work of communities and individuals in Bosnia and Herzegovina in fighting the stigmatization of conflict-related sexual violence survivors is worth a praise. The experience from Bosnia and Herzegovina will also be extremely useful for the international conference that will be held in November in London. It is important to emphasize that through joint efforts we can overcome all obstacles and make a significant step forward in this fight, and this conference in Sarajevo is a strong foundation for all further activities,” said Mr. Matthew Field, British Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Mr. Peter Van der Auweraert, IOM Chief of mission for Bosnia and Herzegovina, thanked all organizations, institutions and individuals in the fight for survivors of conflict-related sexual violence, and stressed that only through joint efforts change can be achieved, but also that religious communities play the biggest role in this process.

"The very fact that there is an Inter-religious Council in Bosnia and Herzegovina that has been active for many years, is of great importance for a country that is still undergoing a post-conflict recovery period. Religion holds a special place in this country, and the joint appearance of all religious communities on this topic is a powerful message to all of us", said Mr. Van der Auweraert.

The conference is part of a joint UN program "Seeking Protection, Support and Justice for Conflict-related Sexual Violence Survivors in Bosnia and Herzegovina", implemented by IOM, UNDP, UNFPA and UN Women.

The joint program is supported by the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, funded by the Government of the United Kingdom, the UN Action Fund and the Government of Canada.