Croatia's parliament adopted a law on Friday granting compensation to rape victims in the 1991-95 war of independence from Yugoslavia.
The victims, whose exact number remains unknown, will receive a one-off payment of 100,000 kuna ($14,504), and a monthly allowance of 2,500 kuna. They will also be entitled to free counseling, legal and medical aid.
“Such legislation is rare in the world, and it is the first of its kind in this region whereby the victims will get a dignified one-off financial compensation,” Matic War Veterans Minister Fred Matic told lawmakers last week.
The law, which takes effect from next January, was endorsed by 86 deputies while three abstained.
Croatia became independent in 1991 but then had to fight a rebel Serb minority, backed by the Yugoslav army, who opposed its independence.
In 2008, the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution that said rape and other forms of sexual violence could constitute war crimes, following reports of mass rapes in Croatia's neighbor Bosnia and in Rwanda.
“This law will be a model for all other countries at war, which will have to deal with this issue and can now look up to Croatia,” Marija Sliskovic, the founder of Women in the Homeland War civic group, told Reuters.
Ruzica Barbaric, a 63-year old Croatian woman who was raped after Serb troops captured the eastern town of Vukovar in November 1991, said financial compensation was welcome but not the final step.
“It will come in handy, I have a small pension. But if I got billions, it could not pay for what we went through,” she told Reuters in Vukovar, a town on the Danube that has been rebuilt since the war but remains burdened by ethnic tensions.
“The law and the compensation are worth nothing if the perpetrators continue to walk free. I want them to answer for their crimes, to say why they came to Vukovar to kill and rape.”
Most Serb rebels, except the top political and military leaders, have been included in a blanket amnesty Croatia declared in 1995, and many have stayed on in Vukovar.
In neighboring Bosnia, about 20,000 women are believed to have been raped during the 1992-95 war. Those in the autonomous Bosniak-Croat Federation can get monthly payments as civilian victims of war.
In the Serb Republic, Bosnia's other half, they have to go through a lengthy legal process of proving the crime, which has discouraged most victims.
In Kosovo, another region of former Yugoslavia torn by conflict in the 1990s, parliament passed a law in 2014 that envisages benefits for the rape victims but the government has yet to define the benefits.