The core of all efforts in support of survivors of sexual violence during the conflict in Kosovo was the formation of the National Council for the Survivors of Sexual Violence during the conflict on March 7, 2014, by former Kosovo President Atifete Jahjaga. Throughout her mandate as president, an important part of Jahjaga’s agenda was the rehabilitation of this category. Continuing her engagement in this respect, the former President established the Jahjaga Foundation in March this year with the aim of supporting the survivors of sexual violence during the conflict in Kosovo to fight the stigma they are faced with in society. The Jahjaga Foundation is now implementing the project “Fighting the Stigma Surrounding Survivors of Conflict Related Sexual Violence in Kosovo” supported by “UN Women” and the UNDP and funded by the European Union.
How difficult was it to take the first steps and to bring the issue of survivors to the agenda of central institutions?
As seen by the first discussions on the matter in Parliament, it was not easy not only to initiate a process to protect the rights of a group of our society, but also to start discussions and mobilize the public and institutions, something that was lacking until then. This topic was left in silence for over 15 years and the wounds, concerns, suffering and the rights of the survivors were not addressed for a long time. Despite the difficulties, I was committed to initiate a change for the survivors – to prove to them that they are not alone, that we as society and institutions acknowledge their sacrifice and that we will do everything in our power to provide them with equal treatment and we will keep fighting to ensure they have access to justice. In this respect, institutionalizing them as a special legal category was crucial so that these women and men can start enjoying their rights.
What is the current engagement of the President with the Jahjaga Foundation for the survivors?
The Jahjaga Foundation is actively engaged in helping the survivors (and other marginalized groups) so that this category gets not only the proper support from our institutions and society, but also to become independent and help themselves. In this respect, the Foundation tries to provide concrete support to the survivors through projects for their economic empowerment, so that they can get jobs or become self-employed, fighting stigma and stereotypes against them, pushing forward the cause of justice which would the real moral compensation of this category, informing youth with the mechanisms of transitional justice for sexual violence in conflict, and other activities that empower this category.
How can society and institutions increase their support for the survivors?
Each and everyone of us as individuals and society can give our contribution in support of the survivors, starting with a positive approach toward them and seeing them as women and men that paid a very high price before and after the conflict. Being that one of the challenges we faced in addressing this issue was fighting the stigma, a positive approach means a lot for the survivors, but also for our society which embraces all citizens without any differences. We need to understand that they were targeted by an inhumane campaign aimed at physically and psychologically damaging them. This is why our institutions must continuously commit to the survivors getting an equal treatment and approach to services in accordance with the law, and for their right and request to justice to finally start being implemented.