The body as battlefield

By order of the EULEX judge in the Municipal Court in Mitrovica, a unit of the war crimes investigation of EULEX police arrested in early June, a man suspected...
By order of the EULEX judge in the Municipal Court in Mitrovica, a unit of the war crimes investigation of EULEX police arrested in early June, a man suspected of war crimes against the civilian population. the news would not be specific for the post-war Balkan territory – if it was not a rape.

by Milica Jovanovic | June/15th/2013
Belgrade, SERBIA
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Sexual abuse is recognized in international law as crimes against humanity after the discovery of scale systematic rape in Foca organized by Serbian forces against Bosniak women. The collected evidence and testimony showed that in similar camps held by Serbs in Visegrad and Sarajevo’s Grbavica, and throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina, sexual violence used as a tool of ethnic cleansing and campaigns of terror: different estimates of the number of victims of sexual violence in Bosnia range from 20,000 up to 50,000; among them a considerable number of men and children, but by far the largest percentage of victims were women – objects of dominance in the male-dominated order.

On the other hand, in a patriarchal society that suffered terror of mass rape of women, the problem is potentially devastating: if admitted, rape entails shame and persecution of victims, if not, secrecy becomes complicit in covering up the crimes and the impunity of criminals.

More than a decade after the war in Kosovo, the youngest state in the Balkans just faces the challenge of recognizing that many Kosovar women, it is estimated there were about 20,000 victims, suffered often haphazard but sometimes massive, systematic sexual abuse.

EULEX’s actions from the beginning of June is not the catalyst of this challenge, on the contrary: EULEX and its judicial and police precursor UNMIK, got in possession of the documents made by the growing evidence of women raped since the withdrawal of Serbian forces in 1999. International representatives decided to take a deal with the social taboo, and the documentation was stored away in office drawers.

The pressure actually rises from civil society organizations, especially those dealing with women victims of war, and culminated last year when Kosovo’s parliament adopted a law on the legal status and rights of veterans and civilian war victims and their families. The text of the law has not a word of raped women.

The opposition party Self-Determination Movement (Lëvizja Vetėvendosje!) filed a proposal to amend the law so that women who were raped during the two-year conflict are to be recognized as civilian victims of war with a monthly compensation of 250 euros, but the proposal was rejected by majority vote.

A former journalist, now party Vetevendosje MP, Alma Lama in an interview with Hourglass says that she is convinced that the proposal will be adopted and expresses optimism in expecting the full implementation of the law by beginning of next year.

Politicians that voted against caused the opposite effect to the public. Rejection of the amendment has led to the fact that for the first time public speaks about the problem of women raped, and it is talked about constantly, in parliament and in the media, says Alma Lama, adding that the MPs who voted against were targeted by very serious criticism. The ruling party, which usually emphasizes its veteran origin, justified its rejection by the lack of resources, which was not particularly well resonated in the public because it is the victims of which are suffering too long in silence.

To speak, however, it is still necessary. “Kosovo is a traditionalist society, a woman raped is a very sensitive topic. Many of people still believe that sexually abused women bring shame and disgrace to their families. Men feel the shame of not being able to protect their wives and daughters,” she says for Peščanik.

Lama said that according to an unofficial estimate of the World Health Organization, during the Serbian terror state and paramilitaries in 1998. and in 1999. in Kosovo about 20,000 women were raped. Kosovo Institute for the Investigation of War Crimes gave somewhat a more precise figure of about 20,400 victims of sexual abuse.

“Some of the better known toponyms of mass rape were Pristina’s Grand Hotel, the building of the Faculty of Economics, the surrounding villages Shajkofc, Vranjevc and others,” said Alma Lama. She notes that there were many of the recorded cases of women whose rape trauma wa exacerbated by unwanted pregnancy and abortion, and there were also a significant number of those who have committed suicide.

“I was a journalist for many years and I have heard terrible testimonies of some of these women. They spoke of massive, systematic rape, s
exual abuse which their husbands and children were forced to witness, rape of young girls. With some of them I am still in touch, I know how it is difficult to cope with the consequences of this particular form of torture has on their souls, how difficult it is for them to find and keep a job, to heal emotional wounds and lead a dignified life.”

These crimes were hidden for too long – they were hidden by the victims under the social pressure, largely ignored by the society as a whole though “rape camps” and victims were common knowledge. “Simply, rape is still a taboo for too traditionalist Kosovo society. Women were silent, suffered severe health consequences, often left without husbands and families. They did not have any institutional support. That’s more than enough motivation to finally stand up and demand system support, primarily through the recognition of the legal status of women who have suffered personal sacrifice in the war for freedom,” said Alma Lama.

Silence out of fear of social condemnation led to the humiliating number of only about a hundred investigated cases of rape in the archives of the Human Rights Watch.

Kosovo MP said that the judiciary has failed the victims. “EULEX, and UNMIK before in particular, have collected many proofs and testimonies of women victims, immediately after the war. However, the fact is that nothing came out of it. We know that most of the perpetrators are still hiding in Serbia, some of them remained in Kosovo, mostly in northern Mitrovica. Their impunity and lack of justice discouraged many women who have suffered sexual abuse during the terror of Serbian forces in Kosovo,” said Alma Lama.

So far, there was only one conviction for rape during the war in Kosovo, made in 2000, but in the re-trial two years later the suspect was released for the lack of evidence. In April this year, a decision was made on yet another acquittal at the trial of the two suspects in the kidnapping and rape of a 16 year old Albanian girl in 1999. All three suspects were members of the Serbian and Yugoslav units.

If the parliament finally introduces provisions on war rape in Kosovo’s legal order, it will be only the first step in returning the dignity of victims and break the taboos of a conservative society.

For Serbia, on the other hand, it will be another opportunity to learn more about themselves and their crimes

SOURCE: Pešč, 15.06.2013.

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