For them, the war is not over yet

Prepared by: Xhois Qarri

Threatened with knives, threatened to kill their children, raped during the day and night, the Kosovo war victims have shared their stories slowly with time. The Kosovo war lasted for 1 year overall, but that was enough for unseen war crimes to happen. During the armed conflict, the Yugoslav Army and Serbian police used brutal and excessive force that resulted in destroyed properties, displacement of population and death of civilians. According to Human Rights Watch, a large number of violent acts was attributed to Serbs. They have committed war crimes, crimes against humanity, burned and looted homes, schools, religious sites, facilities, execution, identity cleansing and rape.

According to institutional numbers, more than 20,000 females were raped by the Serbian military throughout the war. In reality, the numbers are way higher. Rapes happened everywhere, in every city and village. Men were shot at their weakest point and children remained with those terrible images in their head, while watching their sisters, daughters, and wives getting raped, killed, cut with knives or burned with cigarettes. Terrible stories have been told by the victims of this war. Scary stories. What’s scarier, is the fact that many people don’t care. The stigma of exclusion left thousands of women living in silence and having this burden, without telling anyone. One of them says that people knew she had been raped, and because of this didn’t want to have anything to do with her, didn’t help her get medical treatment and would laugh at her. This happened quite often after the war. Women being laughed at for being raped and the worst, your own family to completely disregard and act like nothing happened, not talk about it and making the victims feel like THEY have done something terrible.

Women who were raped and tortured during the Kosovo war, after years of silent suffering, are offerend a reparation scheme – but the stigma of being raped can push many of them to not apply at all. This is the result of a close-minded and ignorant society, that fears those who are raped and shames them.

Fata (her short name) has told her story in agony, been constantly rumored, underestimated and stigmatized by the surrounding community during the post-war.

“They kept us for 3 days. We were 15 people in one room. When I woke up I saw that I had my right eye with a bandage and couldn’t move.”

“My aunt told me I shouldn’t tell anyone what happened and it would be better if I killed myself. My family doesn’t want my name anywhere. They’re a big family now. They married the sons and daughters and made a lot of family connections. They don’t want anyone to talk about this.”

She says that continuing her education was impossible, getting medical help was even harder. The family would suffer because people knew she was abused and didn’t have her right eye. The psychological damage was worse than the physical. She suffers from depression, migraine and has daily headaches. Not mentioning the general trauma.

The negative perceptions of the community and difficulties to get medical treatment in a place like Kosovo made many victims suicide. The negative perceptions of the community and difficulties to get medical treatment in a place like Kosovo made many victims suicide.

SIOBHAN HOBBS: “A lot of them died because of the violence in the family, against the victims of the war, in the name of ‘honor’.”

Fata decided to get married not because she wanted to but to get away from her family that thought of her as a burden. But it was worse. The husband’s family knew she was abused and without an eye. They kicked her out of the house.

Another woman told that she and her sister were raped in a house in Deçan;

 “When her husband learned of what had happened, he abandoned my sister with two children and married another.”

The fear of being abandoned and shamed made many women hesitant to ask for help, jobs or training. This is still the reason why some women, like Fata, are reluctant to apply for recognition of the status as a victim of sexual violence in the war. Only a few of these women testified in the cases of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. By September 2016, The Hauge Tribunal has convicted only four guilties, among others, for wartime rape in Kosovo.

A mother tells the story of her way to find justice for her daughter. Sanije Salihu remembers on August 1998, when her 20-year-old daughter didn’t come home that night. She was taken by a police car in the center of Gjakove, at a time when in a lot of places in Kosovo fightings were taking place. Vjollca Salihu was abused violently by the Serbian police and had suffered spinal cord injury.

“She went to close down the bar. It was 8pm. Didn’t come back. We looked everywhere for her. We went and asked the police and they said they didn’t know anything. Two months later, a doctor from a hospital in Belgrade told us they had taken her from the hospital in Prishtin and she was tortured. They told me she would not live long.”

“I saw her body marked with cigarette burns. Her genital organs were cut and burned. The doctors told me that her nails were taken off. I don’t know how she was sent to the hospital.”

The doctor that sent Vjollca to the hospital In Pristina was killed a few days later.

“She knew only the name of a policeman. She said she was kept tied, beaten and raped. I saw the lines of the ropes. She had tried to commit suicide in the toilet. They had twisted her neck.”

Vjollca died three days later in her own home in Gjakove. Since then, her mother has been trying to find justice. The law doesn’t include reparations for the families of dead victims of rape. The victims are not only the abused ones but also the ones that care for them. The justice still remains distant and the revenge is impossible for a lot of survivors and their families. While keeping in mind that hate doesn’t solve anything, these words mean nothing to those who have suffered the most.

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