Sarajevo Open Centre, Medica Zenica, the Foundation for Local Democracy Sarajevo, Vive žene Tuzla, Žena BiH Mostar, Žene s Une Bihać and Žene Ženama (Women for Women) Sarajevo filed a complaint with the Office of the Ombudsman for Human Rights to investigate the systematic violations of the Law on Combating Domestic Violence in the Federation of BiH.
Article 35 of the Law on Combating Domestic Violence in the Federation of BiH 2013 stipulates that the Federation of BiH and the cantons are to fund safe houses so that 70% of the expenses are covered by the Federation of BiH and 30% by the cantons.
Unfortunately, this obligation has not been discharged in the last three years and the work of the six existing safe houses has been left to self-regulation. It has been estimated that the expenses of a safe house with a capacity of 25 places are approximately 240,000 KM annually. On the other hand the annual government support is 180,000 KM on average (since 2008). Therefore, the Government of the Federation of BiH has consistently been in violation of the law by not meeting its obligation to finance 70% of the expenses.
Instead of engaging with this question, the Government of the Federation of BiH decided to amend Article 35 of the Law, reasoning that the current provision was “unclear.” Instead of asking for Parliamentary interpretation the Government suggested a change in legal regulation of the status of safe houses (so that from now on safe houses can only be institutions according to the Law on Institutions from 1993 and 1994) and a change in future funding (to be determined on the basis of a set amount per each person accommodated there).
In addition to the suggested legislative changes it is disconcerting that the Government of the Federation of BiH has not set aside a single KM towards funding the safe houses in 2015. A budget of only 160,000 KM, which is insufficient for a single safe house, has been approved for the six safe houses in the Federation of BiH for 2016.
Considering this, the above named organizations asked, in February 2016, the Institution of the Ombudsman for Human Rights to investigate the following matters:
– violation of the law by failing to pass sub-legislative acts which regulate the establishment, work and financing of safe houses and the absence of a register,
– violation of the law due to insufficient funding for 2013 and 2014,
– violation of the law due to complete lack of funding in 2015,
– violation of the law due to the proposal of the budget of 160,000 KM for the work of safe houses in 2016,
– exclusion and lack of recognition of safe houses which have the legal status of Associations and Foundations in the Draft Law on Changes and Amendments of the Law on Combating Domestic Violence FBiH which is currently in parliamentary procedure, although NGOs have been recognized as safe house providers in the Istanbul Convention and in the law and sub-legislation in Republika Srpska.
We hope that the Institution of the Ombudsman will use its authority to make a contribution to the fight to save the safe houses of the Federation of BiH. Otherwise we are afraid that more safe houses will be forced to close down, similar to the situation in Mostar in 2015. The consequences of that can be catastrophic for all victims of domestic violence.