President Jahjaga’s address at the “Sexual violence in conflicts and beyond” Forum

President of the Republic of Kosovo, Mrs. Atifete Jahjaga, addressed the “Sexual Violence in Conflict and beyond” Forum, organised by the Foundation for the Wellbeing of the Society of the President of Malta, Ms. Marie Louise Coleiro Preca. This Forum was organised on the occasion of President Jahjaga’s state visit to the Republic of Malta.

Below is President Jahjaga’s address in full:

Dear ladies and gentlemen,
Dear President,

It is a unique pleasure for me to address you at this important forum which tackles one of the most silenced weapons of war, sexual violence, which is destroying the lives of innocent citizens around the world.

As you all well know this issue is very close to my heart since it touched my society not long ago planting the seeds of suffer and pain deep in the lives of the victims and in the whole society.

Sexual violence was used as a tool of war in Kosovo against thousands of women and men with the purpose to incite fear and oppression upon innocent citizens, ethnic cleansing, to emasculate the men, to strip the whole society from its human values.

Nearly twenty thousand innocent citizens carry  the scars  of  the heinous  (HEJNËS)    acts  of  sexual abuse  committed   by  the  Serbian  forces who turned their bodies into a battle field for political  gains.

While we moved on to rebuild our future upon the rubbles of destruction and immense human suffering, struggling with the many challenges of building a peaceful, stable and secure country, we left the victims of this horrendous crime to battle  the  shame,  the isolation  and the  social  exclusion without the proper institutional and social response.

The unspeakable crime committed upon their bodies were speaking loudly of the unbearable crime yet we were hardly ready to listen as a society to this human suffering which was too difficult for us to face.

In the first days of my mandate as the President of Kosovo, I went to meet a group of women, survivors of sexual violence during the war. I witnessed that the war for them still had not ended. Their memories of the crime were fresh and the horrors of the suffering were weighting heavily on their shoulders.

I talked to the women activities who had always raised their voice for justice and recognition for the survivors, heartbroken of what I had witnessed, yet determined to bring change and work together to break this disturbing taboo which was keeping hostage the future of the survivors but also the future of our whole society. I decided to lead the social and institutional discourse towards offering to the survivors all their right, recognizing their sacrifice.

On the 7th of March 2014 I established the National Council for the Survivors of Sexual Violence during the War to offer a  concerted  social  and  institutional  response.

I will proudly remember the first day of the National Council since it marked the first time that we as institutions and as a society expressed our staunch commitment to break the taboo, to fight the stigma still surrounding the survivors and to work tirelessly to treat them as we had done with all other categories of war, with respect and dignity honoring their sacrifice.

Today the survivors have won their legal recognition, we have broken the taboo, they  have  even found  the  support  of  friends  from  around  the  world, people like you who are listening to their voices and supporting their plea for justice.

On June 12th, last year, on Kosovo Liberation Day, Prishtina became the capital of the rights of survivors of sexual violence during the war, through the artistic installation “thinking of you”, of the artist Alketa Xhafa-Mripa and producer Anna Di Lellio, when the green field of the Prishtina Stadium was covered by five thousand skirts and dresses, which spoke loudly of the inhuman acts committed upon the women of our country, and called for recognition and punishment of this war crime.

As I walked through the stadium, through the thousands of dresses I came across two skirt which carried two heartbreaking messages, in one of them it was written: “I have a bitter experience” while in the other it said: “this skirt has a closed history from the spring of 1998”.

Today those skirts are hanged in the walls of the Office of the President of Kosovo to remind us of the sacrifice of thousands of women and men, and foremost remind us of our obligation to treat them with dignity.

Dear ladies and gentlemen,

In these years I have heard stories of women whose dreams of becoming mothers never came true when they lost their unborn child due to inhumane act of violence committed upon them.

I heard stories of mothers who witnessed their daughters being gang raped beaten, tortured in front of them, stories of women sexually abused in unspeakable ways in front of their husbands, fathers, in front of the whole village. Stories of young children who have not survived the inhumane acts. Stories of women who lost their families to the shame of this crime, women and young girls left behind with the stain of shame engraved deep in their bodies.

In all of these stories I also witnessed the courage of young girls and women who despite everything have found the strength to rebuild their lives, to take care of their children and families, who fight every day with the horrors they have lived and never give up. Women who encourage each other to survive and tell to each other that they are the heroines of our society.

It  is  their  strength  and  their  courage which  gives  me  hope  that  their  pledge for  national  and  international  recognition  of  the  crime, their  pledge  for  justice, and  their  pledge  for  a  life  in  peace  will  be  heard.

We still have a long way to go to offer them the justice they deserve. Still 17 years after the war there is not a single person convicted for the horrible crime they have committed. Yet we are more than ever determined to uphold our institutional and social obligations and seek justice for all survivors.

Dear ladies and gentlemen,

We are still fighting the battles we have once won. We have abolished slavery, yet our girls today are enslaved.

We  have  never  thought  that  we  would  again  witness  such  horrendous  scenes  of  women, girls, children chained, sexually abused  in  the  most  heinous  ways  and  sold  as  sex  slaves. Yet it is happening everyday by ISIL militants.

Witnessing  unspeakable  crimes which  strip  women, girls, children  from  their  identity, we  leave  them  in  shame, while  the  perpetrators  walk  free  in  a  culture  of  impunity  for  the  crimes  they  commit.

I  can  say  loud  and  clear  that  it  is  not  only  the  victims  who  pay  the  price  of  the  injustices  inflicted  upon  them  by  this  weapon  of  war  but  it  is  the  whole  society which  suffers.

We can put a stop to this tool of war which is everyday destroying lives in different corners of the world, destroying the fabrics of our humanity, but we need to act together and fight the culture of impunity.

I would like to express my gratitude from my heart for the President for organizing this event, and all of you who have come to offer your support in this quest for peace and justice for the survivors of wartime sexual violence in Kosovo and worldwide.

We cannot change the past of the survivors of sexual violence in conflict, but we can make sure to offer them justice. Foremost we can make sure to end sexual violence in conflict once and for all. Let us all join this cause and protect our humanity. Thank you.

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