By Atifete JAHJAGA/
Anna Du Leillo,/
Dear Members of Diaspora/
Good evening everyone,/
Thank you so much for coming out, I am pleased to see so many of you joining us tonight.
First of all, please allow me thank ambassador Sahatçiu as well as Anna di Leillo for helping organize this event which seeks to raise the awareness about an issue that is very dear to my heart——the issue of the survivors of sexual violence during the war in Kosovo.
Sexual violence is one of the most silenced weapons of war that has affected the lives of innocent peoples not only in Kosovo but also around the world.
Indeed, it’s an issue that our society faces and around which we continue to seek the answer: who is going to take responsibility for these dreadful crimes?
Sexual violence was used as tool of war during the war in Kosovo against an estimated number of 20,000 women and men—— aimed at the ethnic cleansing of Albanians, and with the purpose of undoing the social fabric of our society, destroying lives, and making war never – ending for so many in our society.
Nearly twenty thousand innocent citizens carry the scars of the heinous acts of sexual abuse committed by the Serbian forces, who turned the victims’ bodies into a battlefield for political gains.
I heard stories of women who witnessed their daughters being raped, beaten, tortured in front of them, stories of women sexually abused in unspeakable ways in front of their husbands, fathers, in front of the whole village. Stories of young children who have not survived the inhumane acts. Stories of women who lost their families to the shame of this crime, women and young girls left behind with the stain of shame engraved deep in their bodies.
Eighteen years after the end of the wars in the Balkans the vast majority of perpetrators have not been brought to justice.
As we moved on to rebuild our future upon the rubbles of destruction and immense human suffering, struggling with the many challenges of building a peaceful, stable and secure country, we left the victims of this terrible crime in the mercy of no one.
While most war rapists still run free, thousands of victims live in isolation- imprisoned by shame, stigma, discrimination and fear.
War rape victims in Kosovo had to live under such conditions for many years after the war- –silenced by our society neglected by the system.
In the first days of my mandate as the President of Kosovo, I went to meet a group of women, survivors of sexual violence during the war. I witnessed first-hand that the war for them had still not ended.
Witnessing the discouraging environment the survivors of sexual violence were living in, I decided to act! After a thorough analysis of my legal and constitutional powers as president and after meetings with several activists who had raised their voice for justice and recognition of the survivors, in March of 2014, I initiated the establishment of the National Council on Survivors of Sexual Violence.
The Council was the first institutional response to a problem that had been kept under the wraps for so many years. It broke the taboo, and war rape became a topic publically discussed across Kosovo.
I proudly remember the first day of the National Council since it marked the first time that we as institutions of Kosovo and as a society expressed our staunch commitment to break the taboo, to fight the stigma still surrounding the survivors and to work tirelessly to treat them as we had done with all other categories of war, with respect and dignity honoring their sacrifice.
On June 12th, 2015, on Kosovo Liberation Day, Prishtina became the center of efforts to uphold the rights of survivors of sexual violence during the war, through the artistic installation “Thinking of you”, of the artist Alketa Xhafa-Mripa and producer Anna Di Lellio, when the green field of the Prishtina Stadium was covered by five thousand skirts and dresses, which spoke loudly of the inhumane acts committed towards the women of our country, and raised the awareness to recognize and punish this war crime.
As I walked through the stadium that day, through the thousands of dresses I came across two skirts which carried two heartbreaking messages, in one of them it was written: “I have a bitter experience” while in the other it said: “this skirt has a closed history from the spring of 1998”.
Today those skirts are still hung in the walls of the Office of the President of Kosovo toremind us of the sacrifice of thousands of women and men, and foremost to remind us of our obligation to treat them with dignity.
Today the survivors have won their legal recognition, we have broken the taboo—they have even found the support of friends from around the world, of people like you who are listening to their voices and supporting their plea for justice.
Dear ladies and gentlemen,
In these years I have heard stories of women whose dreams of becoming mothers never came true when they lost their unborn child due to inhumane act of violence committed upon them, and many other stories of unspeakable torture as a result of this war crime.
Yet, in all of these stories I also witnessed the courage of young girls and women who despite everything, have found the strength to rebuild their lives, to take care of their children and families, to fight every day with the horrors they have lived and who never give up. ——-Women who encourage each other to survive and and see each other as they are– the heroines of our society.
It is their strength and their courage which gives me hope that their pledge for national and international recognition of the crime, their pledge for justice, and their pledge for a life in peace will be heard.
We still have a long way to go to offer them the justice they deserve.
+ As Ambassador Sahatqija mentioned, Ks continues to be excluded from the yearly UNSG report on sexual violence, preventing us from international recognition of this crime—and contributing to the prevailing culture of impunity.
Yet, now more than ever, we are determined to uphold our institutional and social obligations and seek justice for all survivors.
Dear ladies and gentlemen,
I can say loud and clear that it is not only the victims who pay the price of the injustices inflicted upon them by this weapon of war but it is the whole society which suffers.
We can put a stop to this tool of war which is everyday destroying lives in different corners of the world, destroying the fabrics of our societies— but we need to act together and join our efforts.
I would like to once again express my gratitude to Ambasador Sahatciu and Producer Anna Di Lelio for organizing this event, and all of you who have come to offer your support in this quest for peace and justice for the survivors.
We cannot change their painful past but we can make sure to offer them justice. Foremost we can make sure to end sexual violence in conflict once and for all. Let us all join this cause and protect our humanity.