A victim of sexual violence both during and after the war

N.X. today is 37 years old, a married woman, mother of three. She got acquainted to her husband at a very young age. With the beginning of the war she lost her house and much of what was left in her life. At the end of the war she decided to get married.

But, her boyfriend’s family, from the same village, was against that marriage, since during the war, the Serbian Army had kidnapped N. and held her in their camp for 22 days, where she had experienced the most inhumane violence and horror. The whole village knew what had happened to her.

However, her boyfriend, knowing that she was innocent kept his word, that he had given to her before the war, and married her.

Now, 17 years after the war she continues to live with those dreadful memories of the past.  Her children and her husband, with whom she started everything from the beginning, help her to overcome those memories. N. complains that the society is doing very little for her, and others like her, be that for medical care, shelter, or similar necessities.

During the last war in Kosovo, a considerable number of women were victims of sexual violence carried out by the Serbian police and military forces. Due to this crime against women, local institutions should do more when it comes to their treatment and rehabilitation. Sexual violence under international conventions is listed among crimes against humanity and international law.

Prof. Dr. Ismet Salihu, a director in charge of the Institute of Research on War Crimes, says that apart from cases of torture, deportations, beatings, killings, there were systematic rapes throughout Kosovo.

“Victims of this form of violence were mainly   girls between the ages 16-25. Because of the specifics of this form of crime, many women, victims of this cruel crime, are reluctant to tell what happened to them”, he says.

A government commission has been recently created, initiated and also supported financially with staff, psychologists and specialists, by the United Kingdom. It will be placed within the Kosovo Rehabilitation Centre for Torture Victims (KRCT), where these women will undergo a procedure aimed at determining whether they had really been victims. They will be treated and then they will be recognized as victims of war. The commission is most likely to start its work next year. The procedures of this commission will be very confidential, and the identity and the dignity of these women will be protected.

Sabahate Pacolli-Krasniqi from the KRCT says that there is no information regarding the exact number of women and men raped during the war in Kosovo, but according to Human Rights Watch data, the overall number may reach 20.000. This can neither be confirmed nor denied. Documenting of sexual abuse is a long process.

 “The KRCT has been dealing with people traumatized during the war since 1999. Survivors of sexual violence are also among them. We offer medical, individual and family psychological services, with the aim to rehabilitate and empower them. These services are offered by the psychologist, psychiatrist, and the doctor. Alongside Prishtina, these services are offered in Drenas, Skenderaj, Vushtrri, Klina and Suhareka”, says Pacolli-Krasniqi.

Other forms of activities of this centre undertakes are education and raising awareness of the survivors, but also of the society for the trauma and the stigma associated with rape during the war, in order to change the view towards this category.

The Women Organization “Jeta në Kastriot” (Life in Kastriot), deals with helping sexually abused women during the last war in Kosovo. Luljeta Selimi, the director of this organization says that this NGO, with a staff of 15, during this year has aided in different ways 316 women who were sexually and physically abused by the Serbian police and military in different municipalities of Kosovo. Until now, there have been cases of women with apparent body wounds, with fingers cut, blinded, with open wounds on their faces, and marks of cigarette burns.

Luljeta Selimi says that these women who are victims of sexual violence are in serious health and psychological conditions. Nevertheless, they manage to look after themselves and their children. They are under the pressure of violence, fear, poverty, disdain from the society and institutions, and also abandoned by their husbands only because they were raped. Mothers who had been raped await assistance from others, since they consider that on their own they are powerless.

“This treatment”, Selimi points out, “is offered to women who had been raped, and had accepted and continue to receive our support. A number of cases ended up abroad for treatment, with the assistance of local and international donors. Fortunately, the treatment they received positively impacted their health.”

Serbeze Haxhiaj, a journalist who has written extensively about the issue of Kosovo women who were raped during the war, points out that women of this category continue to be twofold victims.

“Initially, they are victims of the systematic crime carried out against them, being used as “weapons” of war, and secondly, the Kosovar society, starting from their own families, has shown itself brutal by abandoning, stigmatizing them and by leaving them without any support.”

Haxhiu says that Kosovo authorities have failed in their approach not only in seeking justice for them, but also in collecting evidence on the ground. They have also failed in what may be the most essential and perhaps the most reasonable support, in making sure that they would not be abused once again. A very negative recent example was the very attitude of women representatves in the parliament and government, towards this category of women seriously affected by war.

Regulation of Rules and Procedure of the Government of the Republic of Kosovo, that regulates the verification process of victims of sexual violence, according to Haxhiu, is quite perplexed and ambiguous when it comes to  the treatment of the victims. The financial assistance set aside for these women is minimal, and women have doubts on how they should apply to get them. They even have problems to justify to their families where the the payments are coming from, since some of their family members are not aware that they had been sexually abused.

“Most of these women are in poor health. But even though they live in extreme poverty they have still not lost hope in justice. Now, they are between ages 40-50, and if there’s no change in commitment regarding this issue, I am afraid that the circumstances will not improve in the future,” says Haxhiu.

The Law on the Status and the Right of the Martyrs, Invalids and Veterans… also covers victims of sexual violence. The General Provisions of the Regulation on Defining the Procedures for Recognition and Verification of the Status of Sexual Violence Victims During the Kosovo Liberation War, prescribes the right of the victim to be informed (Article 33), the right to pension (Article 34),  and the secrecy and protection of personal information (Article 38). However, it does not prescribe victims of this category the right to institutional treatment and supervision in health and post-traumatic areas.

Puhiza Bekolli


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