Kosovo War Rape Survivor Comes Forward, Demands Justice

A woman alleging she was raped by Serbian forces during the Kosovo War filed a criminal complaint Monday with the country’s Special Prosecution’s Office, asking that her attacker be prosecuted.Shyhrete Tahiri-Sylejmani became only the second among an estimated 20,000 raped during the 1998-1999 war to publicly recount her experience.”I am here with you to share with you the pain I have in my soul,” she said in front of reporters and TV cameras in Kosovo’s capital, Pristina. “I represent all mothers, brothers, sisters, daughters that suffer the same pain. I want to give them courage. It is never easy. Think of the kind of pain that shatters your heart and it can never be healed again. I am here to demand justice.”Feride Rushiti of the Kosovo Rehabilitation Center for Torture Victims, who stood beside Tahiri-Sylejmani, expressed dismay that justice still eludes the victims and that those who committed rape and other war crimes are still at large.”These crimes remain unpunished. That is why we are here today to demand justice for the 20,000 women, men, girls and boys who have experienced this crime, horror, torture and mistreatment during the war,” she said.Public faces of survivorsIn October 2018, Vasfije Krasniqi Goodman became Kosovo’s first survivor of wartime rape to publicly accuse her alleged attackers and tell her story.In April of this year, she recounted her harrowing experiences in testimony before the 5,000 dresses and skirts hang inside a stadium, in an exhibition titled “Thinking of You” by Kosovo-born Alketa Xhafa-Mripa, in Pristina, June 2015. The artist hoped to draw attention to the stigma suffered by victims of wartime sexual violence.Shedding the stigmaMany survivors kept quiet for decades, fearing the shame and public humiliation that rape can bring to an extended family in a historically patriarchal society.As Kosovo struggled to rebuild and secure international recognition in the wake of its 2008 declaration of independence, the issue of sexual violence remained largely on the back burner.Last year, the government started to provide reparations for victims of sexual war crimes under a law that compensates veterans of the Kosovo War.Claimants welcome the lifetime monthly compensation of $275 for the physical and psychological trauma — about 90% of the average salary for Kosovar women.Even so, Tahiri-Sylejmani and Krasniqi Goodman insist the compensation is no substitute for justice.

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