For years, survivors of wartime rape suffered in silence in Kosovo; their stories subdued under the cloak of societal stigma and government inaction. Now, the Kosova Rehabilitation Centre for Torture Victims (KRCT) are helping them break out of the darkness and assisting them in claiming wartime pensions.
War in the Balkans, Kosovo 1999. Image courtesy of Felicia Violi via Creative Commons.
In 1998, war broke out in Kosovo between the Kosovo Liberation Army and Yugoslavian armed and paramilitary forces. Systematic rape and sexual violence were used as an instrument of ethnic cleansing by Yugoslav forces to spread fear and terror in civilians. It is estimated that there could be as many as 20,000 survivors of rape from this period.
The need to provide reparations was great, however, when the government of Kosovo introduced a law to offer pensions to veterans and victims in 2011, it made no reference to survivors of rape and sexual violence.
“It was nearly impossible to publicly discuss the issue of survivors of rape,” said Dr Sebahate Pacolli-Krasniqi, medical doctor and project manager at KRCT. “There was an overbearing social taboo, which meant that the issue was generally ignored by lawmakers.”
It took many years of concerted effort by survivors and civil society organisations before the situation began to change. In 2014, the parliament started amending the law on victims of the war to include survivors of rape, but it took another four years before it was fully implemented. Since February 2018, survivors of rape have been able to submit applications to a special Commission to receive a state pension of €230 per month. To date, over 1100 women and men have applied for the pension.
Civil society organisations such as KRCT have supported hundreds of applications by offering survivors holistic rehabilitation services that include tailored medical, psychological, social and administrative support throughout the entire process.
“Documentation and data collection have been a very important part in the process,” said Mimoza Salihu, psychosocial officer at KRCT. Documenting cases of rape have been facilitated by KRCT’s use of an Anti-Torture Database (ATD), which is a clinical record-keeping tool that allows torture rehabilitation centres to securely store and analyse data.
The ATD has helped KRCT safely and securely document the testimonies of the survivors of sexual violence to facilitate their applications for wartime pensions. Mimoza Salihu noted, “the data we collect is not only very powerful as evidence, but it also instils confidence in the survivor whilst minimising the number of times they have to recount their stories.”
Receiving the pension has been very positive for survivors as it can provide them with some material relief for their immediate problems. But for many, the recognition of the harm suffered and being offered a space to speak about the pain has also had a transformative impact.
“We are very hopeful, but there are still areas that need to be improved in this law,” said Dr Pacolli-Krasniqi. The Commission will only accept applications for five years and survivors of rape, unlike other categories of victims, are still not covered by health insurance, meaning they must pay expensive premiums to access medical services from government hospitals.
“It took 18 years for the first victims to begin speaking out. We need this Commission to become permanent, otherwise many will never have the opportunity to be heard.” – Dr Pacolli-Krasniqi