See below the complete speech that I was planned to give today in Belgrade at the promotion of the book “I want to be heard”
By Atifete Jahjaga, former President of Kosova
Dear Mirëdita, dobar dan team,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Postovane dame i gospodo,
Thank you for inviting me to the “Mirëdita, dobar dan” festival, and thank you for making the many stories of war rape survivors in Kosova come to light in the book “I want to be heard”.
The stories presented in the book are not only stories of torture and abuse. They are stories of the cruelest form of torture. These are stories of rape- rape used as a tool of war.
These are the stories of a truth that has been attempted to be concealed, hidden and buried.
The courage of the victims, who shared the stories of the horrendous crime and terror they had to cope with, is to be truly admired.
I have witnessed this bold courage and bravery so many times, but I have also felt an indescribable intensity of fear, anxiety, and despair in many other cases.
Over the years, I have met hundreds of survivors of sexual violence during the war in different parts of my country. Carefully and patiently, I have listened to their stories; I have cried with those who needed me to cry with them, and I have stayed strong for those who needed me to be strong for them.
I have heard the story of a woman from the Drenica region who was gang-raped continuously by Serbian paramilitaries for over six months. I have spoken to a woman in Gjakova whose body was mutilated while she was raped during the war. Just recently, I met the child of war rape victim who died without receiving the justice she hoped for, for so many years:
– A young, bright woman who has been stuttering- not able to speak normally anymore- since the day she witnessed the cruel rape of her mother, her cousin, her aunt and the brutal killing of her baby brother.
But, I am not here to tell you all stories of war rape known to me, as this book already contains a very important piece of truth- the truth of a terrible misery.
Although we don’t know the exact number, it is estimated that more than 20,000 men and women were raped during the war in Kosova.
But, while I am seeking acknowledgement of this crime across the whole world, I have to admit that it has been an enormous challenge even for our society to accept what has happened to these women and men.
For many years, our society played deaf towards victims who became subject of a merciless military policy of rape aimed at dishonoring, emasculating, and extinguish a whole population.
As we enjoyed our liberty and freedom gained after June of 1999 moving on to rebuild our future upon the rubbles of destruction, survivors of sexual violence during the war got locked into a prison of silence we had unconsciously built for them.
While we were struggling to restore peace, and create a safe and secure environment, we left the victims of this horrific crime alone in their struggle to battle the shame, the isolation and the social exclusion without any proper institutional and social support.
No space was given to them to tell their stories. No opportunity was given to them to overcome their trauma. No effort was made to punish perpetrators of the crime committed to them.
I had my first encounter with a group of survivors of sexual violence during the war in the first days of my mandate as the President of Kosova.
Their stories- full of suffering and pain- haunted me for several days and weeks. I was shaken and shocked by the gruesome events these women had to go through. I was disappointed with our institutions which had turned their back to them, and I was angry with the international system of justice that had allowed perpetrators of these crimes move freely.
I decided that I had to act!
After a thorough analysis of my legal and constitutional powers as president and after meetings with several activists who had raised their voice for justice and recognition of sexual violence as an act of crime in Kosova, in March of 2014, I initiated the establishment of the National Council on Survivors of Sexual Violence.
The council was the first institutional response to a long standstill and aimed to break the disturbing taboo, to fight the stigma still surrounding the survivors and to work tirelessly to treat them with respect and dignity like we had done with all other categories of war.
The council managed to push forward the amendment of an existing legislation on war victims and survivors recognizing the status of survivors of sexual violence and granting legal rights to them.
But, we had to move beyond laws and regulations in order to let the survivors of sexual violence speak their piece of truth publically.
The art installation “Thinking of You” created by artist Alketa Xhafa-Mripa and produced by Anna Di Lellio significantly contributed to the process of collective healing by encouraging solidarity with victims of sexual violence during the war in Kosova. After thousands of skirts and dresses hung on Pristina’s football pitch symbolizing our collective empathy and support for the victims, war rape was no longer kept under wraps.
Our joint work culminated in the formation of a commission on the verification of survivors of sexual violence during the war in Kosova which held its inaugural meeting about two weeks ago. The process of verification is finally expected to start early this fall.
But, we still have a long way to go to bring peace and justice to these victims.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The promotion of this book in Serbia is of utmost importance, not only because of the testimonies of torture, abuse and war rape collected in the book, but also because of the location the promoting event is taking place.
We are in Belgrade, the capital of a state whose former regime masterminded and conducted a brutal military campaign aimed at the ethnic cleansing of Kosova Albanians during 1998-1999;
-A state, whose current government denies our very existence as an independent state, and tries to hamper our progress by all means possible.
– A state, whose current government refuses to accept and admit the horrible crimes the Milosevic regime committed to thousands of civilians in Kosova.
– A state that has done nothing to bring perpetrators of these crimes to justice.
But, we are also in the capital of a state, whose society- especially the younger generations- can change the course of history of their country and the fate of its people by recognizing the past.
Serbian citizens born after June of 1999 don’t even know what happened during the war in Kosova. The truth shall not be hidden from anyone like it was intended almost 20 years ago when a vicious misinformation and brainwashing campaign was used by the former regime.
Both parties involved in the conflict have a different perception about the truth as both sides have differently dealt with the past- their losses, their pain, their suffering, and the trauma caused by the war.
We must come to terms with the war as the future of our people cannot be built without resolving issues that have happened in the past.
Dealing with the past is not easy. I am quite aware of that. But, instead of spreading hatred, deepening the still existing divisions, or renewing tensions, we must build bridges of mutual trust between our people.
We must use every opportunity available to speak out loud about the past in order to learn more about the impact it has had on the lives of our people. Jointly, we must build a stable path for a peaceful future as neighbors.
And, this is the reason why I am standing here today welcoming the promotion of this book and advocating for it to be also read in Serbia.
Serbian citizens have the ultimate right to know what went on in Kosova during 1998-1999. They need fellowship and a reprieve against the relentless pressures of politics.
I truly hope that you read this book, share it with your family and friends, ask your government to punish perpetrators, and call for reconciliation with your neighbors.
We shall not let anybody keep us hostages of the past. The victims of these crimes will never be able to find peace unless the perpetrators of these dreadful crime are brought to justice.
This is a precondition for long lasting peace, good neighborly relations and a stable future for our next generations.
The future of our countries lies in our hands. Let it be a future of reconciliation and peace!