Justice for wartime rape survivors still pending

This article originally appeared on Kosovo 2.0. Available here in English, Albanian, and Serbian. 

Last March, Kosovo 2.0 published a story about the addition of an amendment for rape victims to existing legislation regarding war veterans, invalids and civilian victims. The amendment called for the inclusion of rape survivors as its own category within the existing law, with its own set of compensations and social services.

The debate over the proposed amendment turned nasty and violent. Nazlie Bala, the head of Vetevendosje’s Women’s Secretariat and one of the most vocal advocates of the amendment, was beaten up a few days after the amendment was first debated in the assembly. Within the assembly, vocal opponents of the amendment stated that the proposal would be too big of a drain on the government’s budget, and also brought up problems of verification. Justice Party deputy and member of the Committee on Health, Labor and Social Well-Being Gezim Kelmendi said that there was no way, 14 years after the war, that women claiming benefits under the proposed amendment could be medically examined in order to verify that they had been raped.

Needless to say, people were not happy. The day after Bala’s attack, a protest made up of supporters of the amendment and representatives of women’s rights organizations was held in front of the assembly. Protesters had brought print-outs of sexist and insensitive remarks that deputies had made about rape victims during the discussion of the amendment in the assembly, as well as print-outs proclaiming “We are all Nazlie Bala.” Street performance group HaveIt smashed apples with cleavers on a table covered with a cloth that bore the word “Examination.”

The end result? The amendment passed the first reading by three votes. In March, the amendment was supposed to go through the Budget and Finance Committee and the Committee on Health, Labor and Social Well-Being for further improvements (to be implemented by the law’s working group) before proceeding to a second reading in the assembly. Since then, the amendment has merely been shifted back and forth between the two committees.

The last meeting that the Committee on Health, Labor and Social Well-Being held on the amendment was on September 25, during which the committee decided that rape victims should be included as a category of recognized persons within the law, with their own set of social benefits.

In late October, EU Office head Samuel Zbogar wrote a letter to the Committee on Health, Labor and Social Well-Being, calling for the amendment to also cover rape victims who were raped after June 1999 — the official end date of the war — and to redefine the category to include victims of rape related to war. The statement allegedly came after Zbogar received complaints by Serbian womens’ NGOs about the exclusive nature of the law.

Flora Brovina, the head of the Committee on Health, Labor and Social Well-Being responded to Zbogar’s suggestion with this statement for Zeri:

“Everyone knows who committed crimes, rapes, and genocide during the war. They were done by the Serbian regime of Slobodan Milosevic. After the war we all know who was responsible for the protection of Kosovo’s inhabitants [referring to UNMIK and NATO forces].”

Zbogar’s request complicates things, not only because of resistance amongst legislators to include Serbian rape victims in the amendment, but also because the whole package of these laws are, for the most part, specifically related to victims of crimes that occurred before June 1999. If the committee includes Zbogar’s suggestion, there’s a big question mark as to whether it will pass in the Assembly.

To read our original story on the amendment’s controversial history, click here.

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