If we don’t solve the problems of our past, we won’t have a future

Women who have faced violence in conflicts often face similar challenges, wherever they live in the world. Amnesty International recently helped set up a meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia, between two NGOs working on similar issues, but in very different contexts – Vive Žene (“Viva Women”) from Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Indonesian NGO KontraS (The Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence). As part of our global 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence, Jasna Zečević, President of Vive Žene, told us what they learned from each other.

What struck me most during our meeting was how much harder it is for women to get justice in Indonesia. KontraS are working with women who are still waiting for justice after almost 50 years, while in Bosnia we are dealing with issues from the 1990s. But it was also a reminder to us that if we don’t properly deal with these issues now, we might face the same situation in a few decades.

The responses from the governments in Indonesia and Bosnia have also been very different. In Indonesia, there has been a lack of accountability for victims of past conflicts, and there is still no truth commission like the one we have in Bosnia. In Bosnia, there is at least a recognition that people have suffered, and victims do get some support from the government. But since it was an ethnic conflict, there are still three different ‘truths’ about how the war started – the debate is about who should apologize to whom.

Both organizations found that we have much to learn from each other. KontraS holds public lectures in universities around Indonesia telling students about the country’s violent past. They talk about the struggles victims face to get justice, or even to find out what has happened to a disappeared family member. It is a very important to get young people involved and explain these issues to them – we will start thinking about doing this in Bosnia as well.

Vive Žene, on the other hand, provides women with mental health counselling and other therapeutic services. Helping people through trauma from war is absolutely vital. It has been encouraging to see how much more accepted this has become in Bosnia since we first started our work. If we don’t solve the problems of our past, we won’t have a future.

This type of activism is crucial, and it’s clear that organizations like KontraS are doing a very big job. While in Indonesia, I found myself wondering what would happen if these organizations weren’t here? Then people would just suffer in silence, there wouldn’t be anyone else to help them.

Vive Žene has provided psychological care and social support since 1994, mainly to women and children who suffered violence during Bosnia’s war (1992-1995). Since 2003 it has also spoken out to win justice for victims.

KontraS was founded in 1998 during the dying days of President Suharto’s oppressive regime. It works with people who were subjected to human rights violations both during and after the Suharto period. The organization played a significant role in uncovering evidence of the military’s responsibility for human rights violations during the conflicts in Aceh and Timor-Leste.