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Veprore Shehu, Executive Director of Kvinna till Kvinna's partner organisation Medica Kosova, continues to work for justice for survivors of sexual violence during the war in Kosovo. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Emma Janke
Veprore Shehu, Executive Director of Kvinna till Kvinna's partner organisation Medica Kosova, continues to work for justice for survivors of sexual violence during the war in Kosovo. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Emma Janke

Fighting for Kosovo war rape victims: "Women never prioritized"

In March 2014, there was great relief among survivors of sexual violence during the war in Kosovo. After many years of struggle, they finally had received the same rights to compensation as war veterans. Two years later, however, there still has not been a single payout. Women’s organisations hope that a new report will help to put pressure on the politicians.

“Issues related to women in general, and the status of survivors of war rape in particular, are never prioritized,” says Veprore Shehu.

As Executive Director of The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation’s partner organisation Medica Kosova, she has extensive experience of working with and for the women who were subjected to sexual violence in connection with the 1998-1999 conflict. When UN Women now releases the report The conflict did not bring us flowers, about the survivors situation and what must be done to improve it, Medica Kosova is one of the organisations that has contributed with both contacts and expertise.

“For us, this study is useful in terms of influencing our government to start supporting this vulnerable group,” says Veprore Shehu.

Can not afford treatment

The conflict-related sexual violence has left deep scars in Kosovar society, with many women (and men) suffering from severe physical and psychological trauma. At the same time, these survivors have not been entitled to compensation for medical care, leading to a large number of them simply not having been able to afford treatment.

FactsDuring the 1998-1999 conflict in Kosovo, thousands of women and girls were subjected to rape and other types of sexual violence. Many survivors still suffer from severe trauma.

Medica Kosova has been working with support to survivors of sexual violence since 1999. The organisation provides legal aid, medical care, psycho-social support and income generating programs mainly within the agriculture sector.

Medica Kosova has also been a powerful driving force behind legislation relating to the survivors being improved, as well as instrumental in challenging the taboo surrounding the subject of war rape.

There are also a lot of social shame and stigma connected to being a victim, and many have never dared to talk about what they have been subjected to. In addition, they often carry the burden of singel-handedly trying to provide for their families, being widows and single mothers as a result of the war.

Ignored issue

For those who, in spite of all this, have tried to seek help, women’s rights organisations are often the only ones offering any. The first time the situation of survivors of sexual violence was at all discussed publicly, was when Medica Kosova organised a conference on the subject in 2003. Officially the issue has mostly been ignored, with the exception of former President Atifete Jahjaga, who worked hard to highlight it.

And then, in March 2014, there was a breakthrough, when the Parliament adopted changes in the law on right to reparations for war veterans, so that it also applied to survivors of sexual violence.

Why has so little happened since then?

“We are still waiting for the Commission for the verification of the status of survivors to be established. The last we heard was that it will take a few more months. We believe the process has been affected by the political situation; the demarcation border line between Kosovo and Montenegro causing disagreements between the government and opposition parties, visa liberalization and disputes in the dialogue with Serbia. That which concerns women always has to give way for other political subjects,” says Veprore Shehu.

Prepare survivors for application

But Medica Kosova is not letting the delay affect their work.

“With the support of Kvinna till Kvinna, we are providing the survivors with psychological and legal support so that they are prepared to enter the process of application for public benefits when it becomes available. Medica Kosova is also a member of the Working Group for Access to Justice mandated by the Ministry of Justice and we are currently monitoring the implementation of the groups action plan. This includes local judges and prosecutors being trained in treating cases of sexual violence. Additionally, we are waiting for reforms in the Criminal Code to be worked on before the end of the year, to facilitate trials related to these specific crimes. Like being able to prosecute war criminals in their absence, so that we do not continue to be dependent on the will of Serbia to extradite them.”

Malin Ekerstedt

 

Updated in: 2016-10-18