News 29 Mar 13

Kosovo Wartime Rape Controversy Sparks Protest

Protesters rallied outside Kosovo’s parliament against “degrading language” used by lawmakers in a debate about wartime rape victims that sparked widespread controversy.

Edona Peci

Around 50 protesters began their rally on Thursday by staging a symbolic performance during which four women crushed apples with kitchen mallets to reflect the alleged lack of sensitivity shown towards rape victims by lawmakers during a parliamentary debate earlier this month that provoked heated dispute in Kosovo.

Women protest near the Kosovo parliament. Photo: BIRN

“We’re protesting against the way the issue was discussed,” said Eli Krasniqi, one of the organisers of the protest.

“We welcome any kind of support, but not with this kind of discussion where the damaged dignity of [war rape victims] is once again maligned,” she said.

Protestors also threw printouts of the lawmakers’ speeches – some of them defaced with the word ‘Turp’ (‘Shame’) – over the parliament fence.

During the parliamentary debate on March 14, lawmakers discussed whether rape victims should be included in current legislation defining the status and rights of Kosovo Liberation Army fighters who died in action, war veterans, invalids, ex-guerrillas and their families.

Some of the MPs demanded a genuine headcount of rape victims and one lawmaker, Shaip Muja, said they should be medically examined.

Muja’s controversial statement angered campaigners and sparked widespread comment in local media but he told parliament on Thursday that he had been misinterpreted.

“You have twisted my statement about gynecological examinations. You are speculators and unprofessional illiterates,” said Muja, explaining that he had actually been calling for post-traumatic stress disorder treatment for the victims.

Meanwhile a lawmaker from the Self-Determination Movement party, Nazlie Bala, was physically attacked on Wednesday after she criticised the authorities over the issue on state television, saying she wanted to put a clause about wartime rape victims into the current legislation covering people who suffered during the late 1990s conflict with Serbian forces.

Kosovo police are investigating the attack, but it remains unclear who was responsible and what their motives were.

Prime Minister Hashim Thaci condemned the assault and called for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.

“This is a cowardly and unacceptable act… damaging democracy in our country,” Thaci said in a statement.

The US embassy in Pristina also spoke out against “interference, threats and violence” sparked by the rape victims dispute.

“Every country has an obligation to identify appropriate support for those who have suffered as a result of war, including survivors of rape,” the US embassy said in a statement.

The Self-Determination Movement blamed “some lawmakers and the Kosovo Prime Minister” for inspiring the attack.

“These threats and violent acts won’t stop our efforts in bringing justice to men, women and children raped during the war,” Self-Determination Movement MP Glauk Konjufca said.

Proposals made by the party on March 14 for amending the current law on the status and rights of war veterans and other victims were approved by 33 votes, but the changes can only be adopted after a second vote which is yet to be held.

Fourteen years after the end of the war in Kosovo, no official data is available on how many women were raped during the conflict.

According to UN Women data, at least 20,000 women were raped by Serbian forces in Kosovo between August 1998 and August 1999.

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