Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page

Recent Reports 
 Support HRW 
About HRW
Site Map

Human Rights Watch - Home Page


In line with the obligations outlined above, the international community must not only condemn rape publicly, but also must secure redress for women.

Soon after the bombing campaign began, NATO leaders repeated unconfirmed reports in press conferences, referring to "systematic rape" early in the conflict before such a determination could reasonably be made. The propaganda war waged by NATO spokesmen during the conflict included inflated rhetoric about rape, some based on sketchy allegations that remain unsubstantiated. This opportunistic use of rape allegations was criticized by human rights experts and members of the press.137 As a party to the conflict, NATO used premature and unsubstantiated claims of humanitarian law violations to justify the continuation of the bombing campaign and may thereby have undermined more careful reporting on abuses. NATO's use of insufficiently substantiated allegations provided Serbian officials with an opportunity to denounce all rape reports as mere propaganda.

Officials in Belgrade categorically denied that rape was taking place; the Serbian Ministry of Information called the allegation that women were being raped in army camps a "monstrous fabrication."138 Although rape outside of marriage is a criminal offense under the Yugoslav criminal code, NATO's entry into Kosovo, combined with official Serb denials that any rapes occurred, make it extremely unlikely that any of the perpetrators will be indicted and prosecuted domestically in Serbian courts.

The international response to reports of rape reflected the long-overdue acknowledgment of the use of rape as a weapon of war. ICTY Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte has stated that she intends to investigate, and when appropriate, indict, and prosecute perpetrators who committed crimes of sexual violence in Kosovo as part of her "normalization" policy of prosecution of sexual violence as a serious violation of humanitarian law.139 The ICTY sent a team of investigators, some with expertise in sexual assault investigations, to refugee camps to interview witnesses and survivors. Gender-integrated teams of investigators for the tribunal have since conducted preliminary interviewswith some rape survivors in Kosovo and visited sites alleged to have been used for rapes and murders of young women during the conflict. These investigations are currently underway and are designed both to uncover evidence that can be used to amend the existing five indictments of top Serbian officials and to develop individual indictments for particularly serious crimes and sexual violence in the Kosovo conflict.140 Human Rights Watch applauds the prosecutor's efforts to investigate and prosecute crimes of sexual violence as a normal part of the Office of the Prosecutor's operating procedures. However, because some women survivors of rape expressed reluctance to speak of the crime, investigators and prosecutors pursuing these cases must have special expertise and training. As the ICTY's investigations expand, it will be important to include female investigators well-versed in rape investigations on teams working in Kosovo.

Forensic teams have also traveled to Kosovo to collect evidence for use by the tribunal. Unfortunately, however, an examination for evidence of rape or other forms of sexual violence is currently not included in the forensic medical protocol for experts performing autopsies in the field in Kosovo.141

Various international organizations, such as the OSCE, sent researchers to interview rape survivors and publicly denounced the use of rape by Serbian forces in Kosovo.142 The Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children, in collaboration with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) senior coordinator for refugee women, prepared and distributed a synopsis of the UNHCR guidelines for the prevention and response to sexual violence in refugee crises. The document, which was translated into Albanian, was distributed to refugees in camps in Albania and Macedonia.143

The European Commission and the governments of Austria and Sweden, with leadership from Commissioner Anita Gradin, sponsored a conference, "Rape Is A War Crime," in Vienna in July 1999. The purpose of the meeting was to allow Bosnian women to share their expertise and experiences with Kosovar Albanian women confronting rape in war for the first time. The 160 conference participants generated a series of recommendations to the international community.144

On the reconstruction front, the Kosovo Women's Initiative, modeled on the Bosnian Women's Initiative, began in August 1999 with a $10 million grant from the United States to the UNHCR.145 The program's objectives,outlined in a background paper, include "identify[ing] current gender inequities and support[ing] programs which strategically and practically redress these inequities."146 The initiative will finance projects designed to "enable women, as well as men, to fully participate in the longer-term reconstruction of their society."147 Private foundations, such as the Open Society Fund Network Women's Program, made funds available to women's organizations working with war-traumatized women in refugee camps in early April 1999.

In an effort to integrate women's human rights concerns into the UNMIK mandate, the United Nations appointed a gender adviser, Roma Bhattacharjea, to work on site in Kosovo.148 The Office of Gender Affairs, which became operational in mid-October 1999, works to "ensure that gender issues are mainstreamed across all departments, and taken into account in all areas."149 Since December 1999, the United Nations appears to have taken steps to recruit more female international staff members and female political leaders in Kosovo.150 These steps were long overdue: for the first six months of UNMIK's existence, women were conspicuously absent from positions of leadership in the local and international institutions of governance.151 One aid official told Human Rights Watch, "In the beginning, this was a complete cowboy town-100 percent men."152 On January 12, 2000, the twelve-member Kosovo Transitional Council (KTC) discussed expansion of its ranks to include "members of civil society including women."153 An expanded KTC, made up of thirty-four members, is designed to operate as a "mini-Parliament" until elections can be held. The members now include "nine representatives of political parties, two political independents, three representatives of religious communities, nine representatives of civil society, and seven representatives of national communities."154 Of the thirty-four members, twenty-four are men, five are women, and five have not yet been named.155

In all, since the end of the conflict, international donor countries have pledged over $1 billion in reconstruction aid to Kosovo. The challenge, as documented, is to ensure that women will have a voice in the distribution of this aid. The international community must guarantee that those who violate women's human rights, whether during or following the war, do not enjoy impunity in Kosovo. Rhetoric alone will not suffice; international institutions must take concrete steps to ensure women's access to justice, assist women in rebuilding their lives, and include women in decisionmaking about the future of Kosovo. The women of Kosovo are waiting for the perpetrators of rape, as well as those who led and encouraged them, to be arrested and brought to justice.

137 See, for example, Matt Lee, "Questions Mount on Accuracy of Kosovo Atrocity Reports," Agence France Presse, April 1, 1999. 138 Serbian Ministry of Information, Press Release, April 11, 1999, ( 139 Press Release, "ICTY Prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, Releases Background Paper on Sexual Violence Investigation and Prosecution," The Hague, 8 December 1999. 140 Human Rights Watch telephone interview, Patricia Viseur-Sellers, Gender Issues Legal Officer for the Yugoslav and Rwanda Tribunals, February 4, 2000. 141 Human Rights Watch correspondence with Dr. Helena Ranta, forensic medical doctor, February 19, 2000. Forensic doctors examining remains in Kosovo used recommendations provided by INTERPOL and the United Nations. The "Disaster Victim Identification Guide" does not include a rape protocol. The second manual used by investigators, "Guidelines for the Conduct of United Nations Inquiries into Allegations of Massacres" includes only "a short notice on rape," according to Dr. Ranta. She also noted that her team works mostly on skeletal remains and males killed by shooting. 142 Agence France Presse, "Serb Atrocities in Kosovo `Beyond Imagination': OSCE," April 23, 1999. The OSCE also published a report on atrocities in Kosovo including extensive documentation of rape and other forms of sexual violence. The OSCE also documented rape of men during the conflict. OSCE, As Seen, As Told. 143 Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children, "Sexual Violence in Refugee Crises: A Synopsis of UNHCR Guidelines for Prevention and Response," 1999 ( 144 The conference report and recommendations can be found at the International Center for Migration Policy Development website ( 145 In June 1999, Congressman Michael Capuano initiated a "Dear Colleague" letter-writing campaign urging President Clinton to allocate an additional $5 million of the $1.1 billion appropriated by the United States for assistance for Kosovarrefugees to women victims of rape. 146 Kosovo Women's Initiative Background Paper supplied to Human Rights Watch by the U.S. State Department Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, October 28, 1999. 147 Ibid. 148 Report of the Secretary General on the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo July 12, 1999, S/1999/779. 149 Human Rights Watch correspondence with representative of the Office of Gender Affairs, UNMIK Pristina, March 6, 2000. 150 Human Rights Watch telephone interview, international aid official, Pristina, February 22, 2000. 151 According to the Office of Gender Affairs, as of mid-October 1999 there were no female members of the Kosovo Transitional Council. Human Rights Watch correspondence with representative of the Office of Gender Affairs, UNMIK Pristina, March 6, 2000. 152 Ibid. 153 U.N. Press Release, "Kosovo Transitional Council Discusses Expansion of its Membership," January 12, 2000 ( 154 UN Press Release, "Newly Expanded Kosovo Consultative Body Discusses Mitrovica Security Strategy," February 9, 2000 ( 155 Human Rights Watch correspondence with OSCE human rights official, March 3, 2000.

Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page