For too long, sexual violence in conflict has been used as a silent, effective weapon in conflicts around the world. Historically, rape has been used as a strategy for ethnic cleansing and genocide, as a means to destroy families and communities, as a method of inducing terror, and extracting information. For a long time, sexual violence was next to invisible. Survivors suffered in silence, ashamed for something that was not their fault, shamed by their families, stigmatized, left to cope for themselves, and never understood or assisted. It was only in 1992, when the world faced widespread rapes of women in former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, that the issue came to the attention of the UN Security Council. As a result of significant public pressure, sexual assault was finally recognized as a weapon of war.
The 19th of June, 2008 commemorates the breakthrough adoption of UN Security Council resolution 1820, which recognized sexual violence as a tactic of war and a threat to global peace and security, thus requiring an operational security, justice, and service response. It further recognized that rape and other forms of sexual violence constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Since the very start of the conflict in Kosovo, civil society organisations and human rights activists have been raising their voices to highlight the issue of rape being used against the civilian population, namely women and girls. It took almost twenty years of struggle, efforts, and tireless work of Kosovo institutions, civil society and UN Agencies (notably, UN Women) to give the victims and survivors of sexual violence during the conflict a voice. The law which gives legal recognition to these victims was approved in March of 2017 by the Kosovo Assembly. It was followed by the establishment of the Government Commission to recognize and verify survivors of sexual violence during the Kosovo conflict. In September of last year, the Government of Kosovo allocated a budget for the process of recognizing and verifying the status of sexual assault survivors. Once identified, the survivors receive the official status of civilian victims who are eligible for reparations and monthly pensions. It is a huge step forward, however, more needs to be done both from the legal and human perspective. To this day, the suffering continues, with victims or survivors being misunderstood, victimized and ostracized. It is our duty to lobby with other institutions to do everything in our power to recognize these women in the same manner as any other victim that suffered during the conflict, to lift the veil of invisibility and shame. They are our mothers, sisters, and daughters, and they must be treated with compassion, respect, and resolve for what they endured. For the majority of Kosovars, peace came 19 years ago. It is time to work together to finally bring peace to these women and children survivors of sexual assault and to the effects of conflict-related sexual violence that echo across generations, through trauma, stigma, poverty, poor health and unwanted pregnancy.
Indeed, this year, the 19th of June is dedicated to “The Plight and Rights of Children Born of War”. This year, we shall focus on the children whose existence emanates from sexual violence, who often are labeled “bad blood” or “children of the enemy” and alienated from their mother’s social group. Furthermore, whose mothers are more than often marginalized and shunned by their families and communities. Children conceived through rape in wartime often struggle with issues of identity and belonging for decades after the end of the war. They are rarely accepted by society. Additionally, unsafe abortion remains a leading cause of maternal mortality in conflict-affected settings, which further highlights the need to protect women in warfare. Today, in memory of survivors of this unacceptable wartime weapon, this crime against humanity, let us join the UN Secretary-General to “…amplify the voices of these forgotten victims of war, who suffer stigma, shame, and exclusion in societies polarized by armed conflict.”
Ulrika Richardson, UN Development Coordinator, UNDP Resident Representative.
The message was written on the occasion of International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict
The article also published on Koha Ditore special leafleat “Koha për të mbijetuarat” (Time for Survivors), P 14, on June 19, 2018.