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War and torture in ex-Yugoslavia

From 1991 to 1999, the Former Republic of Yugoslavia was a region of wars. Years of wars (in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo), the NATO bombing of Serbia, and UN sanctions in Serbia, have led to the gradual collapse of national economies and medical and social welfare systems in the region as well as the wider disintegration of civil society. Poverty, fear, uncertainty, loss of human life and property have each had serious consequences on the mental and physical health of people in the region, especially vulnerable groups such as refugees, IDPs, victims of torture, and other war-traumatised people.

The particular vulnerability of the IDP and refugee population in regards to their social, economic and legal status is made more acute when considering the effects of the severe and prolonged traumatic experience suffered by these groups. The incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD - a psychiatric disorder caused by severe stressful experiences with debilitating long-term psychological and somatic consequences, as well as impairment in family/work/social functioning) among Bosnian refugees is estimated to be 65% (a), and in some other populations even 70% (b), and prevalence of serious mental health problems within refugee population to 50% (c). In comparison, prevalence rates of PTSD in the general population in post conflict, low-income countries where people have survived multiple traumatic experiences is typically from 15.8% to 37.4% (d).

In most cases, refugees live in precarious conditions, often lacking access to basic services including access to justice. In most cases they still carry physical consequences in the form of disabilities and somatic disorders, and have developed symptoms of PTSD. Some of these clients began to manifest symptoms soon after the traumatic event, while in others this occurrence was triggered several years later by the NATO air strikes in 1999.

Six years after the wars, Serbia and Montenegro continue to act as host to 340,424 refugees, IDPs, and war affected people (UNHCR data on 30 th April 2006 ), making it one of the countries with the highest number of refugees in Europe . Approximately 5,000 of these refugees were subjected to torture.

A detailed description of the Yugoslav wars, including a political and historical introduction, the specificities and consequences of wars (link na Borin clanak iz knjige Torture/Part I) , together with IAN's humanitarian response are described in "Torture in War: Consequences and Rehabilitation of Victims".


a) Weine, S.M., Becker, D.F., McGlashan, T.H., Laub, D., Lazrove, S., Vojvoda, D. and Hyman, L. (1995) Psychiatric consequences of "ethnic cleansing": clinical assessments and trauma testimonies of newly resettled Bosnian refugees. American Journal of Psychiatry 152 (4):536-542.

b) Kinzie, J., Boehnlein, J., Leung, P., Moore, J., Riley, C. and Smith, D. (1990) The prevalence of posttraumatic stress disorder and its clinical significance among Southeast Asian Refugees. American Journal of Psychiatry 147 , 913-917.

c) de Jong, J.P., Scholte, W.F., Koeter, M.W.J. and Hart, A.A.M. (2000) The prevalence of mental health problems in Rwandan and Burundese refugee camps. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica 102 , 171-177.

d) de_Jong, J.T., Komproe, I.H., Van_Ommeren, M., El_Masri, M., Araya, M., Khaled, N., van_De_Put, W. and Somasundaram, D. (2001) Lifetime events and posttraumatic stress disorder in 4 postconflict settings. JAMA 286 (5):555-562.




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