Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page

Recent Reports 
 Support HRW 
About HRW
Site Map

Human Rights Watch - Home Page


The Consequences of Rape

I am afraid I'm pregnant. If it's true that I'm pregnant, I'd rather die.78

Many of the women raped by Serb paramilitaries, police, or Yugoslav soldiers feared that they would become pregnant. By July, gynecologists in Kosovo and Albania interviewed by Human Rights Watch reported eight cases of rape in which they had provided abortions or other medical treatment. In Pec alone, a local gynecologist reported that three women had requested abortions because they had been raped.79 In Pristina, the chief gynecologist, Dr. S. Hoxha, performed two abortions on rape victims. In both cases the women, seventeen and twenty-one years of age, said they had been gang raped by Serbian special police (MUP), one near Djakovica and the other near Klina (Kline).80

Beyond the immediate fear of pregnancy, some women expressed shame that they had been raped. Dr. Hoxha, the chief gynecologist, told Human Rights Watch, "We think that this category of women will suffer consequences in the future-psychological consequences as well as family and social status consequences."81 Women interviewed by Human Rights Watch appeared to be suffering from very high levels of trauma, exacerbated by cultural taboos associated with rape. Women returning to their families after hours of captivity often exhibited symptoms of trauma and extreme emotional distress. In one case, a twenty-two-year-old woman was taken away by Serbian soldiers in the village of Z. According to the testimony of eyewitnesses, in the morning on April 5, uniformed Serbs grabbed the woman and put a knife to her throat. A man who witnesses believed was an army captain told the woman's husband, "This woman is not yours anymore." An hour later when the woman returned, she fainted and wept. She told her mother-in-law and the other women in her family that she had been raped. In shock, she tried to commit suicide by putting her fingers in a light socket. Family members were afraid to leave her alone.82

While some women received emotional support from friends and family, other women feared speaking of the assault at all, terrified that they would be blamed for their rape, shunned by friends and family, and unable to marry. Newspaper accounts and testimonies of witnesses and victims across Kosovo referred to the shame that women felt about the rape and sexual torture they experienced.83 While rape is indeed seen as shameful in Kosovar Albanian society, many women nevertheless found the courage to speak about their experiences; some of these women expressed their wish to testify at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in the Hague (ICTY).

Access to Justice

Many women who survived attacks do not want to report the rapes for a variety of reasons. Some women victims of rape expressed fear that they would never be able to marry. Others felt terrified that they would be shunned by society. But other women have expressed anger at their attackers and willingness to testify at the ICTY. That willingness to testify is tempered, however, by fear that their attackers may still be at large in Kosovo, or that they may return.84

For those women willing to testify, issues of witness protection and support loom large. At a conference on rape as a war crime held in Vienna in June 1999, Kosovar Albanian women attendees demanded that rape victims planning to testify in the Hague receive witness protection before, during, and after the trial. In addition, Drita Rexhepi, director of NORMA, the Kosova Association of Women Lawyers, recommended that women witnesses be encouraged to retain personal legal counsel to represent them on issues of witness protection, immigration status, and other legal matters.85 She also suggested that donor governments provide funds for training local Kosovar Albanian lawyers on the rules and procedures of the ICTY.

Rexhepi's concern for women witnesses stemmed from open discussions with women leaders from Bosnia and Herzegovina who have dealt with the tribunal over the past five years. Bosnian activists warned Kosovar Albanian women that counseling records could be subpoenaed by defense counsel. The negative experience of theFurundzija trial, in which the trial chamber forced a nongovernmental organization in Bosnia and Herzegovina to release a victim-witness's counseling records to the tribunal, caused concern among nongovernmental organizations.86 Dr. Monika Hauser, founder and director of Medica Mondiale and one of the keynote speakers at the Vienna "Rape is a War Crime" conference stated, "[The Furundzija Case has] shown in a sad way that it is impossible for our work to leave the political circumstances outside the doors of the therapy center."87

Women may also be able to pursue redress through locally available tribunals. Because the ICTY does not have sufficient resources to prosecute all abuses in Kosovo over which it has jurisdiction, some cases are likely to be prosecuted locally before domestic Kosovar courts or a specially-created domestic war crimes tribunal. Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte has stated, "[I]t is clear that the [Office of the Prosecutor of the] ICTY has neither the mandate, nor the resources, to function as the primary investigative and prosecutorial agency for all criminal acts committed on the territory of Kosovo."88 Support appears to be growing for a local tribunal: participants in the OSCE-sponsored Kosovo International Human Rights Conference, held in Pristina on December 10-11, 1999, called for accelerated prosecution of crimes committed during the conflict, "namely through the establishment of a Kosovo war crimes tribunal."89 The structure of such a tribunal remains to be decided, although a proposal is under consideration that would include appointment of a panel of international judges. While Human Rights Watch acknowledges the potential value of domestic war crimes prosecutions as a means of broadening accountability, experience from Bosnia and Croatia indicates that domestic prosecutions are often highly politicized processes. Any mechanism for domestic prosecutions must include, at a minimum, independent review of evidence and adequate safeguards for the rights of the accused, as well as adequate protection for local prosecutors and judges.

Reconstruction Programs and the Status of Women

A woman is a victim of violence and will also be a victim of tradition because of the status women have here. Women get married and can have children. Women have no prospects in our society. [When the Serbs dismissed all the Albanians] those Albanian women who continued working wereat hospitals and cleaning women-there were none in the government. All the educated women were dismissed.90

Women raped and sexually assaulted during the Kosovo conflict face significant obstacles to securing redress in the forms of justice, medical attention, and psycho-social support. This struggle is made all the more difficult by the context in which it occurs. Although the killings and human rights abuses in Kosovo have forever changed the fabric of that society, traditional views of women still hold. Particularly in rural areas, women have long been viewed as "pillars of the family [and] the martyrs for the nation,"91 not breadwinners, and have been accorded a lower status than men in the family and in society. For example, in inheritance cases, women often give up their right to property. As Sevdie Ahmeti told Human Rights Watch, "He [the male relative] takes for granted that she will give it up. It automatically goes to the brother. He expects this. It is unthinkable that a woman would demand a share. When she marries, she gives up everything."92 Similarly, women are still expected to put men's employment needs first, even though many women want to work and some must work to support their families. Women's struggle to see justice done requires dismantling laws and policies that prevent all women living in Kosovo from enjoying their human rights. Women in Kosovo are entitled to equality as well as to justice. The international community must focus on key areas for potential violation of women's human rights such as inheritance and property issues, employment, and development and reconstruction assistance.

Throughout Kosovo, women in the postwar environment must provide for families, rear children alone, and rebuild their lives. The hardships of conflict have not disappeared. Water and electricity are available only sporadically in cities.93 The rule of law is almost nonexistent: robberies, apartment thefts, extortion, and murders reportedly take place with near impunity.94 With such vast destruction of Kosovo's housing stock, families-and particularly female-headed households-are struggling to find adequate shelter during the winter.

The World Bank and the European Commission estimate that the reconstruction of Kosovo will cost U.S.$2.3 billion over the next five years.95 To date, only $10 million has been specifically earmarked by the international community to target women for income-generating and reconstruction programs.96 Projects funded to date include hairdressing salons, vocational training projects, collective chicken farms, and education programs for journalists and farmers.97 It is too early to tell whether the international community has integrated women into the $2.3 billionreconstruction plans.98 Vjosa Dobruna, Sevdie Ahmeti, and Igballe Rogova, Kosovar women activists, have demanded that the United Nations include women in political and economic reconstruction programs. In an October 1999 meeting with the UNMIK Special Representative Bernard Kouchner and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, the three women criticized the United Nations representatives for failing previously to meet with women political leaders or include women in the U.N.-appointed transitional government.

The international community's track record in the region fails to inspire confidence that women's voices will be heard in the reconstruction clamor. Women constituted only 7 percent of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Kosovo Verification Mission (KVM).99 Of the six deputy heads of the KVM, all were male. Given that KVM verifiers were the primary human rights monitors on the ground in Kosovo until their withdrawal in March 1999, the lack of female representation had important implications for women victims of rape and other forms of sexual violence. Although KVM did successfully gather testimony of twenty-three rapes in Kosovo prior to their withdrawal, some women may have felt discouraged from coming forward to report the crimes.
Since the end of the conflict, the OSCE has become "the lead organization for the institution-building tasks of UNMIK," with responsibility for training police and civil servants, facilitating the development of political parties, organizing voter registration and elections, and monitoring human rights.100 Given the important role of the OSCE in post-conflict Kosovo as a key pillar of UNMIK, it is troubling that the OSCE mission includes almost no women in senior positions. One former OSCE staff member who questioned the lack of female participation in the OSCE democratization programs was told by a male OSCE colleague that women were not interested in politics and could not participate for local cultural reasons.101 However, when the OSCE held a meeting in late 1999 for leaders of women's nongovernmental organizations in Kosovo, over thirty women attended and expressed outrage that women had been sidelined by the international community.102

Failure to hire experienced women as OSCE human rights officers in Kosovo makes reporting of post-conflict rape, gender discrimination, and domestic violence far less likely.103 Although there are exceptions, women victims of these crimes will report more often to female human rights officers. Further, failure to train all staff, including senior staff, in discrimination, violence against women, rape as a war crime, and other human rights abuses againstwomen will effectively render these violations invisible. The OSCE gender adviser in Vienna has taken steps to integrate these issues into training programs for staff.104

Violations of international humanitarian law in Kosovo have now ceased. Violations of women's human rights in the post-war environment must not be tolerated. Under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), state parties have an obligation "to pursue by all appropriate means and without delay a policy of eliminating discrimination against women."105 This includes eliminating discrimination against women in political and public life106 and ensuring that women have equal rights with men in other areas of economic and social life.107 As international institutions, and in particular UNMIK and the OSCE, supervise the governance of Kosovo, those institutions have a responsibility to abide by United Nations human rights conventions, including CEDAW.

On a positive note, there are some indications that the international community will not replicate all the mistakes made in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The United Nations has created a gender unit, headed by Dr. Roma Bhattacharjea, to work within the U.N. mission in Kosovo.108 On February 29, the Kosovo Interim Administrative Council appointed Dr. Vjosa Dobruna, a well-known and well-respected leader in the NGO community and doctor, as co-head for the Department of Democratic Governance.109 Edi Shukriu, a leader of the women's wing of the Kosovo Democratic League, was appointed as co-head for the Department of Culture.110 In addition, the first class of recruits who entered training in 1999 for the Kosovo Police Service included forty women.111 The inclusion ofwomen in the police force marked an important development for two reasons. First, domestic violence against women tends to increase after a period of conflict.112 Women interviewed in the region indicated that they would prefer to report rape and domestic violence cases to female, rather than male, police officers. Second, municipal jobs and positions with international organizations are, at this stage, the only stable employment opportunities for Kosovars. Women must be integrated into all jobs programs on an equal basis with men. Employing women in nontraditional jobs also shatters stereotypes about women's capabilities and skills. In one example, Norwegian People's Aid, a nongovernmental organization working on mine-clearing in Kosovo, announced that its first team of all-female trained deminers would begin work after a five week training course in Pec.113

Because of the important role that international organizations now play in Kosovo, those institutions should vigilantly monitor human rights, including women's human rights, as the population recovers from war.114 In light of the potential for gross violations of women's human rights to emerge in the post-conflict period, staff of the OSCE and UNMIK must be trained to recognize these abuses. Programs implemented by these institutions in Kosovo should integrate women's human rights. Specifically, Human Rights Watch makes the following recommendations:

To the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe:

C Support the efforts of the OSCE Gender Adviser to incorporate training on women's human rights, with particular emphasis on violence against women, rape as a war crime, and discrimination against women, into training for all field staff posted to Kosovo.
C Include training on women's human rights in all training programs for the Kosovo Police Service (KPS). Portions of the training should be led by local Kosovar Albanian experts on violence against women, rape as a war crime, and discrimination against women.
C Develop an accountability/complaints mechanism for the Kosovo Police Service that allows women, their families, women's groups, and human rights organizations to complain about lack of adequate police response to violence against women.
C Include women's human rights in all human rights reporting undertaken by local field staff.
C Sponsor a conference on democratization and women's rights to integrate women into the economic and political reconstruction programs.
C Create and implement leadership training programs for qualified Albanian, Roma, and Serbian women leaders in Kosovo;
C Provide training on international humanitarian law, and specifically prohibitions relating to rape, for all Kosovo Protection Force and Kosovo Police Service personnel.

Donors should target funding to avoid perpetuating discrimination against women and to assist local and international initiatives to increase women's access to credit, job training programs, and general reconstruction programs.

To the European Union, the U.S. Government, and Other Donor Governments:

C Fund programs in Kosovo designed to provide legal, psychological, economic, and social support for women victims of trauma. Programs should rely on the expertise and capacity of local nongovernmental organizations with experience in the area.
C Cooperate fully with the ICTY to facilitate witness protection programs including resettlement, asylum, and refugee status for victims of rape and other forms of sexual violence who agree to cooperate with the ICTY and face retaliation.
C Fund programs to train Kosovar Albanian lawyers on the ICTY and finance a project to provide independent legal representation for victims of rape and other forms of sexual violence cooperating with the ICTY.

78 Human Rights Watch interview with a rape victim conducted in Kukes, Albania, April 27, 1999.

79 Human Rights Watch interview, Dr. Ibrahim Rexhia, Pec, July 14, 1999.

80 Human Rights Watch interview, Dr. S. Hoxha, Pristina, July 21, 1999.

81 Ibid.

82 Human Rights Watch interview, S.A. and S.X., Domaj, Albania, April 15, 1999.

83 Williams, "In Kosovo, Rape Seen as Awful as Death," Los Angeles Times. Elisabeth Bumiller, "Deny Rape or Be Hated: Kosovo Victims' Choice," New York Times, June 22, 1999, p. A1.

84 James Hider, "Post-war Women Must Work to Overcome Conflict Trauma," Agence France Presse, November 27, 1999.

85 Statement of Drita Rexhepi, "Rape Is a War Crime" Conference, Vienna, Austria, June 18, 1999.

86 Prosecutor v. Anto Furundzija, Case No. IT-95-17/1-T, December 10, 1998, Judgment, paras. 90-116. In Furundzija, the Trial Chamber found that the prosecutor had breached Rule 68 by failing to disclose "material [that] was considered to be relevant to the issue of credibility of Witness A's testimony." Thus, when the defense moved to strike the testimony of Witness A, a rape victim, or, in the case of a conviction, for a new trial, the Trial Chamber re-opened the proceedings in connection with "medical, psychiatric or psychological treatment or counseling received by Witness A after May 1993." The Trial Chamber ordered, under the circumstances, that all related documents be turned over to the defense. In addition, a subpoena was issued to the nongovernmental counseling organization in Bosnia, forcing them to turn over all relevant documents, which were reviewed by the judges in camera, and then disclosed to both the prosecution and the defense. Although the Trial Chamber held that the facts of this case warranted disclosure of private and highly personal counseling records, it must be noted that war crimes victims who receive counseling have an important interest in maintaining the confidentiality of the relationship with their counselor. In order for women to recover from the trauma of rape or sexual assault, they often must speak of deeply personal events and feelings. Their willingness to do so hinges on their belief that such conversations will never be divulged. Women fearing public exposure thus might choose not to seek counseling rather than to risk breach of the confidentiality of their counseling records. The tribunal should weigh these concerns heavily to avoid chilling women's willingness to seek trauma counseling.

87 Statement by Monika Hauser, Director, Medica Mondiale, "Rape is a War Crime" Conference, Vienna, Austria, June 18, 1999.

88 "Statement by Carla Del Ponte, Prosecutor of the ICTY on the Investigation and Prosecution of War Crimes Committed in Kosovo," Press Release, The Hague, 29 September 1999 (

89 Kosovo International Human Rights Conference Declaration, Pristina, December 10-11, 1999 (

90 Human Rights Watch interview, Sevdie Ahmeti, Pristina, July 11, 1999.

91 Julie Mertus, "Women in Kosovo: Contested Terrains," in Ramet, ed., p. 174.

92 Human Rights Watch interview, Sevdie Ahmeti, Pristina, July 12, 1999.

93 See Steve Erlanger, "Chaos and Intolerance Prevailing in Kosovo Despite U.N.'s Efforts," New York Times, November 22, 1999, p. A1.

94 See Lawyers' Committee for Human Rights, A Fragile Peace: Laying the Foundations for Justice in Kosovo (New York: Lawyers' Committee for Human Rights, 1999), and Fred Abrahams, "Justice Delayed in Kosovo," Institute for War and Peace Reporting, November 26, 1999.

95 Reuters News Service, "Donors Pledge $1 Billion for Kosovo," November 17, 1999 (

96 The program is known as the Kosovo Women's Initiative (KWI).

97 James Hider, "Post-war Kosovo Women Must Work to Overcome Conflict Trauma," Agence France Press, November 27, 1999.

98 The World Bank's "Transitional Support Strategy for Kosovo," published in October 1999, does not mention women, (www/

99 Human Rights Watch interview, Sandra Mitchell, Pristina, July 11, 1999. The Kosovo Verification Mission was designed to place a 2,000-person, unarmed civilian "verification team" in Kosovo to monitor the situation on the ground. The KVM actively collected information on human rights abuses in Kosovo through regional offices in most of Kosovo's larger towns. Just prior to the NATO bombing campaign, the KVM was withdrawn to Macedonia, where they continued gathering testimonies from refugees in the camps.

100 OSCE, "The Mission in Kosovo: The First Six Months,"

101 Human Rights Watch telephone interview, former OSCE official, December 7, 1999.

102 Ibid.

103 At present, only 14 percent of all OSCE field staff in all missions are women. See "European Union Statement on Equality of Opportunity for Men and Women," OSCE Review Conference, Human Dimension, September 28, 1999 (RC.DEL/176/99).

104 Human Rights Watch telephone interview, Beatrix Attinger-Colijn, Gender Adviser, OSCE, Vienna, February 17, 2000. The current two-day training program for field staff includes a forty-five minute session on gender issues.

105 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Article 2. CEDAW was adopted and opened for signature, ratification, and accession by United Nations General Assembly resolution 34/180 on 18 December 1979. It entered into force September 3, 1981. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia signed the Convention on July 17, 1980 and it entered into force on March 28, 1982.

106 Under Article 7 of CEDAW, states parties are required to "eliminate discrimination against women in the political and public life of the country, and . . . to ensure to women, on equal terms with men, the right . . . to participate in the formulation of government policy and the implementation thereof and to hold public office and perform all public functions at all levels of government."

107 Under Article 13b of CEDAW, states parties "shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in other areas of economic and social life in order to ensure, on basis of equality of men and women, the same rights, in particular: the right to bank loans, mortgages and other forms of financial credit."

108 Report of the Secretary General on the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo July 12, 1999, S/1999/779. Dr. Bhattacharjea's title is Gender Policy Officer.

109 Dr. Vjosa Dobruna founded the Center for the Protection of Women and Children. U.N. Press Release, "Kosovo's Interim Administrative Council Names Heads for Three More Departments," February 29, 2000, (

110 Ibid. See also U.N. Press Release, "Co-Heads for Three More Administrative Departments in Kosovo Named," January 25, 2000, ( Nineteen administrative departments were originally proposed for the transitional government, called the Kosovo Joint Interim Administrative Structure (JIAS). The number of administrative departments was later increased to twenty.

111 Carlotta Gall, "Community Policing Taught by Americans in Kosovo," New York Times, September 8, 1999. The first graduating class of Kosovo police officers was 20 percent women. The second nine-week training course, which began on November 29, 1999, included 17 percent women. See OSCE, "Mission in Kosovo: The First Six Months," December 1999(

112 Activists throughout the region have told Human Rights Watch that domestic violence incidents increased after extended periods of conflict. See, for example, International Human Rights Law Group BiH Project, A National NGO Report on Women's Human Rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Sarajevo: International Human Rights Law Group, 1999), p. 170.

113 Julius Strauss, "Housewives Join First All-Woman Mine-Clearing Team in Kosovo," London Daily Telegraph, November 17, 1999.

114 According to one source, many international institutions operating in Kosovo have already set up gender task forces or gender units. Human Rights Watch telephone interview, international aid official, Pristina, February 22, 2000.

Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page