Fresh snow makes the neighbourhood of Crkvice seem like a picture postcard as a little boy on the pavement pats a snowball he has made with mittened hands, smiling to himself as he looks for a target. But Emina (not her real name) sees none of this. She spends most of her days in bed in her tiny apartment, on the fourth floor of a nondescript block. 'Yesterday was the first time in seven years that I stepped on snow,' says the 33-year-old, at home in the central Bosnian city of Zenica. 'I had not been outside in winter in seven years. I would always go outside with two people with me but now one person is enough. I have this enormous sense of fear.' Emina says she has to take between 15 and 18 pills a day. The medication helps her deal with the insomnia, anxiety attacks and depression that have become an everyday part of a life shattered by wartime rape. The conflict that destroyed Bosnia-Herzegovina (Bosnia) between 1992 and 1995 was fought along ethnic lines; Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks), Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Croats took up arms in a war that claimed the lives of more than 100,000 people. Emina's ordeal began when she was separated from her family near the Bosnian-Croat border in late 1992. The family, from the northern village of Kotor Varos, was among thousands of refugees fleeing the fighting. Her parents, two brothers and a sister managed to bribe their way to safety in Croatia but Croat soldiers stopped Emina. 'There were two cousins of mine, my aunt's sons, but I did not have any protection with them because everyone was taking care of themselves,' she says. 'That's the moment when you suddenly get older, when you are figuring out that there is no one else you can rely on.' Stranded at a military barracks in the city of Travnik, Emina was raped by Croat soldiers. She was 15. Months later, the soldiers released her and she managed to find refuge in Zenica. Alone and traumatised, she was also pregnant. Seventeen years on, she is now the mother of a teenage girl and a 12-year-old boy. Her daughter represents two irreconcilable symbols; a reminder of the repeated attacks she suffered yet also one of the few positive things in her life. Emina says she looks forward to seeing her children at the orphanages they have been placed in. 'I feel trapped in my own head. I can't get over what happened,' says Emina. 'There are people who lost their children and family members [in the war]. They somehow continue living but I just cannot. Maybe it was because I was really young. I constantly question why it had to happen to me. I can't break free from these feelings. People tell me to just continue but I can't. It follows me and lives with me.' Emina has been unable to hold down a regular job. She survives on a 240 Bosnian mark (HK$1,285) a month disability allowance from her local government, most of which is spent on medication. She has also been able to get psychological support and medical help from Medica Zenica, a non-governmental organisation that has provided war-rape victims with counselling since 1993. About 20,000 women, girls and men were raped during a war in which organised mass sexual violence was used as a weapon of terror. Few have been given economic or psychological support by the Bosnian government. In a report titled 'Whose Justice? The Women of Bosnia and Herzegovina are Still Waiting,' Amnesty International claims: 'The government of BiH [Bosnia-Herzegovina] has failed to ensure justice and reparation for thousands of women who were raped during the 1992 to 1995 war. A continuing failure to comprehensively investigate and prosecute crimes of sexual violence before international and national courts means those responsible ... still manage to evade justice and impunity prevails.' The report adds that state compensation programmes and psychological health-care services are scarce, with, on average, only one mental-health centre per 40,000 to 50,000 people in a country of about 4.6 million. NGOs, including Medica Zenica, have been left to pick up the pieces with little or no funding from the state. Such failings can be blamed in part on the confusing structure of the government in Bosnia. The country has a complicated power-sharing sys- tem brokered by the United States-led Dayton Peace Agreement, which helped end the war. Designed to devolve power to all ethnic groups equally, the agreement carved the country into a decentralised patchwork: two semi-autonomous entities - the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina (FBiH) and Republika Srpska (the Serb Republic) - with special status given to Brcko district, in the north. FBiH and Republika Srpska have their own parallel judiciaries, governments and parliaments, while Brcko also has its own justice system. Although the state government passes legislation and allocates funding at the national level, how laws are implemented is left to the individual entities, cantons and districts according to their budgets. There are wide discrepancies in the level of support victims get depending on where they live. Teufika Ibrahimefendic has been a psychotherapist for war-rape victims since 1994. She provides individual and group therapy sessions for Vive Zene Tuzla, the largest NGO in Bosnia helping such victims, who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, insomnia, depression and the inability to trust. 'The biggest consequence of rape is the psychological influence it has,' says Ibrahimefendic. 'It disturbs the relationship between two partners and within a person. Women have problems with sex- ual issues and low self-esteem. Women who have female children, especially those who are now in puberty, are strict towards them. They don't let them go out. Some say, 'I'm even scared of my husband in this way' and try to 'protect' their daughters. The trust is gone, even in your own husband. The women say, 'He's a man, too.'' Officials at the FBiH Ministry of Labour and Social Policy recognise there is a problem. According to ministry figures, only 612 war-rape victims in FBiH received monthly state compensation, of 507 marks, last year. The entitlement is given to people who possess a certificate from an accredited NGO, a government agency or a hospital proving they were raped. Last year, the Bosnian government gave the ministry a budget of between 700 million and 800 million marks, of which 40 million marks was allocated as compensation for the 12,000 registered civilian victims of war, says Esma Palic, an adviser to the ministry's Department for the Protection of Persons with Disabilities, which is responsible for FBiH's civilian victims of war. 'There hasn't been a targeted programme to help these women victims of war to claim their rights,' says Palic. 'The federal ministry is responsible for the implementation but only has supervising authority ... It's very difficult to supervise all the cantons. It's also limited due to financial circumstances. The budget of the federation is overwhelmed by having to provide support and care to victims of war. The solution could be in making the administrative system less complicated, because that takes most [of the] money away. But financial compensation cannot solve all the problems. These people need psychological help for their human dignity. 'Programmes [of effective help] are either not very well accepted or there is not enough money to implement them.' At the Republika Srpska's Ministry of Labour, War Veterans and Persons with Disabilities, spokesman Slavko Peric is more optimistic. He says the amount of compensation a war-rape victim is given depends on their level of 'impairment' and adds that the republic provides extra compensation if survivors are unable to work or are single parents. THE PHONE NEVER seems to stop ringing in Saliha Duderija's office, in the capital, Sarajevo. Bosnia's assistant minister for human rights and refugees helps draft national laws to ensure war- rape victims throughout the country are helped to find work, compensation and psychological support. One of the biggest obstacles in doing this, she says, is the absence of a national strategy that outlines exactly what victims of war rape are entitled to. Although legislation is being drafted, proposals are being blocked by the larger agendas of politicians, she adds. 'The approach government agencies take towards the victims depends on the political situation and the party currently in charge. Whoever is in power dictates how much of a priority it is. The situation only gets worse when the election period comes, as there's more room for political manipulation. It's really difficult to get some political support within this country for drafting this law because the formal attitude ... is that the situation is OK. 'There's also the problem of 'national truths'. The truth of one ethnic group is different to [that of] another ethnic group.' As Bosnia heads towards parliamentary and presidential elections in October, the issue of redress for war-crimes victims, including survivors of sexual violence, has become one that politicians have harnessed to gain votes and reinforce ethnic divides. Some prominent Serb politicians, including the prime minister of the Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik, have claimed war crimes committed by Bosniaks against Serbs have not been prosecuted while denying certain other war crimes ever took place. Bosniak politicians have accused the Republika Srpska of not prosecuting war crimes. The biggest victims of this political infighting, of course, are the thousands of rape victims; people like Semka Agic. 'I had to take a pill to calm down before you came,' says the 55-year-old, avoiding eye contact. 'I have these fits and sweating when I'm in this situation, when I have to talk about these things.' A slight woman, Agic speaks eloquently as she sits in the living room of her ground-floor apartment, in the small town of Zivinice, northeastern Bosnia. Her eyes are a deep hazel, lively and animated. But they cloud over as she explains how Serb paramilitaries forced her to move from Samac, a town in northern Bosnia, to Zasavica, to the south. It was July 1992 and the war was just erupting. Days earlier, her 19-year-old son, Dzevad, a civilian, had been killed in crossfire between Croat, Muslim and Serb forces. Still struggling to deal with the loss of her only child, she had little idea of what lay in store for her as she was bundled on to a bus with three other women. 'I wasn't really thinking about what might happen. I was thinking, 'If they kill me, I will make peace with that.' I didn't imagine there were worse things than killing me.' The women were taken to an empty house owned by Croats who had left the town. One day, she was walking back to the house. 'It was a straight road,' she says. 'The main thing that I remember is that it was very hot. I could not stand the heat. In the middle of the street, there was a man in a uniform. He was drunk. He had a hat on. He was between 30 and 35 years old. He was a Serb. All my attention was focused on his eyes, because I noticed he was very angry. 'I stood in front of him. I was looking straight into his eyes. Later on, when I was asked by prosecutors to testify and they showed me pictures [of suspects], I was trying to remember his face but I could not because I could remember [only] his eyes. 'He took me to a nearby house that belonged to a Croat woman who was not there anymore. He took me into the bedroom and put his gun on the bed and asked me, 'Do I have to use the gun?'' Agic was raped repeatedly by the Serb until she was freed in a prisoner exchange between Bosniak and Serb forces in May 1993. She returned to Zivinice, the town of her birth, and has been trying to piece together the remnants of her life, now with the help of Vive Zene Tuzla, which has provided her with counselling for the past three years. Investigators from the State Investigation and Protection Agency began gathering evidence three years ago, in order to indict a man suspected of being Agic's tormentor. The case has yet to go to trial. 'I just want justice. I often stay up at night imagining how it would be in the courtroom, seeing his lawyer pointing a finger at me saying that I was not such a 'goodie-goodie' before the war,' says Agic. 'I would really find satisfaction in hitting [the rapist] on the face even though it won't change anything.' Her case is also being investigated by the Special Department for War Crimes (SDWC), part of Bosnia's Prosecutor's Office, in Sarajevo. The department is looking into more than 50 cases in which wartime rape and/or sexual violence was involved. It also has the authority to transfer war-rape cases to lower-level courts throughout Bosnia. Vesna Budimir, who heads the department, is only too aware that the hopes of women such as Agic lie in the work she and her team of 16 prosecutors do. 'The [Prosecutor's Office] is an impartial, independent institution that prosecutes crimes alleged to have been committed by either of the three ethnic groups; Serb, Croat and Bosniak,' says Budimir. 'We do not prioritise one ethnic group over the others. The only thing that people belonging to these groups have to do is trust the Prosecutor's Office. This trust relies on the professional work done here in the office. I am a Croat and I have prosecuted five ... Croats who committed war crimes and have been put in prison.' Since it was formed in March 2005, the Prosecutor's Office has filed charges against 20 people indicted for sexual war crimes. The State Court has delivered final verdicts in 12 of these cases, against 15 defendants. Twelve of the men were convicted and three acquitted, research by Amnesty shows. The reasons behind the low number of prosecutions are complicated. The stigma associated with rape has made it hard for many victims to come forward. Gathering reliable witness testimony and medical evidence 15 years after the end of the war, limited resources and a lack of political will to support such cases have combined to make investigating a daunting task, say experts. David Schwendiman, head of the SDWC until last December, says the lack of money has forced the department to focus its efforts primarily on mass-murder cases. 'The people working the cases are working very hard,' he says. 'They are doing a great job. But the government does not provide them with the support they need. The national government should take blame for not being truly committed to this.' Some justice is being meted out at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), in The Hague. ICTY judges presided over the first convictions for rape as a crime against humanity. It was a legal precedent that paved the way for rulings in cases of sexual violence in other conflicts, including the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. But there have been only 18 trials that include charges of rape and/or sexual violence at the ICTY since it was created in 1993, research by Amnesty shows. The charge sheets in two recent high-profile ICTY cases - against Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb president who is currently on trial, and two cousins, Milan and Sredoje Lukic, indicted for war crimes alleged to have been committed at a rape camp in eastern Bosnia - do not include accusations of rape or sexual violence, even though rape was mentioned in their indictments, to show how Serb forces terrorised the civilian population. A spokeswoman for the tribunal will not comment on the Amnesty figure but says 70 people have been indicted for war rape and/or sexual violence at the ICTY, of whom only three have been acquitted. One way to force progress, analysts believe, would be through diplomatic pressure from the European Union and the US. Bosnia wants EU membership, which means Brussels has leverage over what the country does. The US created the Dayton agreement and Bosnia's Peace Implementation Council, an international body, so Washington could also flex its diplomatic muscle and push Sarajevo to implement change. Marko Prelec, Balkans project director at the International Crisis Group, says the Bosnian government must not be allowed to squander the Euro44 million (HK$460 million) that international donors gave to set up the State Court and Prosecutor's Office: 'The international community should pressure Bosnia's state government to fully staff and support its war-crime office, which it has not done.' The attempts by Emina and Agic to get support and justice are tiny pieces in a much larger narrative that raises fundamental questions about how societies still reeling from ethnic cleansing can provide redress and how people from different ethnic communities can live together again. The conflict may have ended but Bosnia is still struggling to deal with economic instability, including high unemployment, as well as with the horrors of its recent past. About 12,500 people remain missing and barely a single family, regardless of ethnic background, escaped the war unscathed. Today, many victims and abusers live side by side. Without justice, accountability and economic and psychological support for war-rape victims, the fault lines between the ethnic groups may well deepen as mutual distrust and fear grow anew. Anecdotal evidence suggests ethnic divisions have begun to widen again in recent years. In many towns and cities, people live segregated lives. Many Serb children are taught a Serb curriculum and with it a Serb version of history, while Bosniak children are taught a Bosniak version of the past. The roots of these ethnic divides run back to the mid 20th century, when Croat Ustase, Serb Chetniks and multiethnic partisans were all in- volved in widespread violence as the second world war enveloped Europe. The fascist Ustase, which collaborated with the Nazis, was responsible for the deaths of 'hundreds of thousands' of Serbs, Jews and Roma in the region. The number of Bosniaks, Croats and civilians of other ethnicities murdered by Serb nationalist Chetniks is not known but some historians estimate they killed about 100,000 Bosniak civilians. The communist partisans, who led the resistance against the Nazis, also committed war crimes. After the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was formed in 1943, many of these crimes, particularly those committed by the partisans, remained unaddressed and animosities festered. With the collapse of Yugoslavia, which started with the declaration of independence of Slovenia and Croatia in 1991, the region descended into a sectarian bloodbath fuelled by Bosniak and Croat attempts to win independence from the Serbs and Serb attempts to break free of Bosnia. Marek Marczynski, Amnesty's researcher for the country, says: 'Bosnia is very fragile. It's the worst [now] since the end of the war. The way of dealing with the past in the past was [to pretend] the crimes committed by the Chetniks, Ustase and the partisans never happened. You did not talk about the past. But people did talk about it, in their families, within their ethnic groups, but there was no political mechanism by which these feelings could be expressed. 'The [latest] war was a result of that; people wanted revenge. I don't want to witness another revenge in 20 years' time for what happened in the 1990s. I'm not saying necessarily that there will be armed conflict but the example of the past is a good lesson to keep in mind. It tells us something about how important it is to prosecute these kinds of crimes.' For survivors such as Emina, though, it may be too late. The men who raped her stole her faith in humanity. '[During the war], I became numb to the feeling of grief,' she says. 'When someone died, it was not a big deal anymore. Today, it is the same. When someone in my family dies, I cannot feel that sadness. When [someone] needs help or needs something, I gladly help them out, whatever they ask for. But when it comes to love, I can't.'