News 13 Dec 17

Kosovo Urged to Increase Aid to Wartime Rape Victims

Kosovo will offer reparations to survivors of wartime sexual violence, but an Amnesty International report warns that the law doesn’t do enough to help them and that access to justice remains limited.

Marija Ristic
BIRN
Belgrade
A monument in Pristina to war victims. Photo: Amnesty International.

A new report published by human rights organisation Amnesty International on Wednesday says that the Kosovo’s new reparations law may not fully address the gravity of the crimes committed in the 1990s or provide adequate compensation for what the victims of sexual violence endured.

“However, it may - at last - provide survivors with some help to restore their lives and enable them to spend their remaining years in dignity and, in providing them with public recognition, help to challenge the stigma that has overshadowed their lives,” says the report entitled ‘Wounds That Burn Our Soul’.

Amnesty International says the 56-page report documents the needs of survivors and demonstrates how the lack of access to justice and shortcomings in the reparations law still leave many survivors without the remedies they are entitled to under international law, and which they desperately need.

In March 2014, following an advocacy campaign led by women’s NGOs working with survivors, the rights of the survivors to reparations, including compensation, were finally recognised in amendments to Kosovo’s existing law on the rights of combatants and other civilian victims of war.

The amended law provided both female and male survivors of wartime sexual violence with the right to apply for reparations.

However, they have had to wait until January 2018 to receive compensation in the form of a monthly payment, as well as some other limited forms of reparation.

They will receive a monthly payment of 230 euros, around 90 per cent of the average salary for women in Kosovo, in compensation. 

But Amnesty warns that the law adopted still falls short of international standards, as it may exclude a significant number of survivors.

The law time-limits eligibility to the period of armed conflict, defined as ending on June 20, 1999, and thus discriminates against women who were raped afterwards, predominantly Kosovo Serbs, Roma and some Albanian women.

Survivors who already receive another war-related payment - for example, if their husband was killed or injured - will have to choose which benefit they want to receive, as the law prohibits beneficiaries from receiving two such benefits.

The law also does not provide for psychological and psychosocial assistance, which is critical to recovery, and has so far been provided to date by NGOs and is not readily available within Kosovo’s health service, the report argues.

In the 18 years since the end of the war in Kosovo, only a few cases of sexual violence have been prosecuted before domestic and international courts.

According to the report, because Koosvo’s Special Prosecution only has two war crimes prosecutors, it will be impossible to fully investigate these cases without a political commitment to employ more prosecutors and support staff.

Without an agreement between Kosovo and Serbia on mutual legal assistance, there will also be very little progress in bringing those responsible for conflict-related sexual violence in Kosovo to justice, Amnesty says.

Amnesty also argues that even when the law starts being implemented, and survivors decide to apply, women will still face many personal obstacles - in some cases from their families - in realising their right to reparation.

The rights group says it is calling for “comprehensive and transformative” reparations, including restorative justice,” to challenge the stigma and enable survivors’ voices to be heard in their communities, without condemnation, to allow them to apply for compensation and other benefits, without being ostracised by their families or communities”.

Amnesty says that the Kosovo needs to strengthen the protection and promotion of women’s rights to live free from violence.

“Most importantly it needs to reinforce the message that the survivors – and other women who continue to experience gender-based violence on a daily basis - are not responsible for this violence,” the report says.

This should not only include strengthening the justice system to bring perpetrators of wartime rape to justice, but to ensure access to justice for all women who experience gender-based violence in Kosovo, it argues.

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