Kosovo: Survivors of wartime sexual violence speak out

While she was being raped by a Serbian policeman and a civilian, Vasfije Krasniqi asked the policeman to kill her. She was only 16 when the men took her from her family home in Northern Kosovo on April 14, 1998. Back then, she saw death as the only possibility to escape her ordeal. “But he answered: No, you will suffer more if you stay alive,” Vasfije Krasniqi said in an interview with Kosovo’s public TV station RTK. She recalled how she addressed the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) after the end of the war to place charges against the men who raped her. But even after three trials, none of them was punished. One of them still lives in Kosovo, where he works as a policeman.

Today, Vasfije Krasniqi lives in Texas and is the mother of two children. In October, she returned to Kosovo to tell her story in a 25-minute television interview. Her rare act of courage has deeply moved the entire country.

It is estimated that thousands of people were victims of sexual violence during the Kosovo conflict of 1998-1999. Although they didn’t talk to the media, as Vasfije Krasniqi did, 278 female and two male survivors spoke to members of Medica Gjakova about what happened. This NGO in Kosovo registers and supports survivors of wartime sexual violence.

On the basis of this information, sociologist and policy analyst Anna Di Lellio, a professor at New York University who had worked in Kosovo for years, conducted research on sexual violence during the Kosovo conflict. Together with Garentina Kraja, an independent researcher from Kosovo, and Mirlinda Sada, the executive director of Medica Gjakova, she brought new evidence to light. The results of this research were published this winter in the magazine Prishtina Insight. “We are able to show that the victims have been raped precisely in certain places and on certain dates, where mass killing happened,” Di Lellio tells DW. The evidence is remarkable: “We have a picture, like a photograph, that includes the killing of dozens, sometimes hundreds of men, and an equally high number of rapes, as well as the burning of the houses and mass expulsions.”

The researcher underlines that the nature of the crimes was systematic: “This is a picture of ethnic cleansing. When you destroy the house, you expel the people, you kill the men, you rape the women, and also rape some of the men,” she says. In the article, Di Lellio also pointed out that the first time the crime of wartime sexual violence was given the label of ‘tool of war’ was during the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

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