Take five: “Impunity is not acceptable”

Date: Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Drita Hajdari. Photo: UN Women
Drita Hajdari. Photo: UN Women

Drita Hajdari is a prosecutor for the Special Prosecution Office of Kosovo[1], where she investigates and prosecutes war crimes.  To date, no one has been successfully charged with conflict-related sexual violence in Kosovo*. Today, police investigators and special prosecutors, like Ms. Hajdari, are working on an increasing number of cases, with a victim-centred approach. UN Women, through the Gender-Sensitive Transitional Justice project, funded by the European Union, has facilitated mentoring support from international criminal law experts to prosecutors and investigators in Kosovo.

Why is justice for conflict-related sexual violence crimes important for survivors and the community?

Among other war crimes, sexual assault is one of the most serious and traumatic crimes a human being can experience. Sexual violence during conflict has been strategically used to humiliate and degrade women as part of ethnic cleansings, particularly because women are important pillars of the society. To date, there are no accurate statistics on the number of victims who survived sexual violence in Kosovo. Only some survivors have come forward with their stories, and many are not yet ready to do so, as they fear stigmatization within the society and their families.

By prosecuting conflict-related sexual violence crimes, which is the victim’s right, we are first recognizing these acts as crimes and [giving the message that] impunity is not acceptable. This gives a confirmation to the victims that what they have been through constitutes an injustice and a crime committed against them.

What are the biggest obstacles to justice for survivors of conflict-related sexual violence in Kosovo?

Twenty years after the conflict in Kosovo, there are still many challenges in investigating and prosecuting these crimes. First, it is necessary for survivors to report such cases. To encourage survivors to do so, it is crucial that they know that they wouldn’t face any consequences [or retaliation] in their day-to-day lives after reporting these crimes. We need to avoid social exclusion and stigmatization of survivors and we need to ensure that survivors receive the necessary support from their family and from the society. Additionally, survivors need to be provided with psychosocial support, housing and assistance.

How is it possible to prosecute cases of conflict-related sexual violence today that date back two decades?

The biggest challenge in dealing with these cases is the passage of time since they were committed, but keep in mind that there is no statute of limitations for war crimes.

Another challenge is the lack of international legal cooperation between Kosovo and Serbia.

The prosecutors and investigators of conflict-related sexual violence in Kosovo work very closely together to build strong cases to provide justice that has been denied for so long. In addition, our teams have been receiving support from UN Women through international experts in the field of criminal justice. These peer exchanges have been very helpful in learning from similar challenging cases and contexts.

What needs to be done to overcome these obstacles?

It is necessary to establish legal cooperation between the prosecutions in Kosovo and Serbia. It is also necessary to create safe conditions for reporting by survivors to protect their identity and to avoid any possible negative impact on their lives once they report the crime.

As the State Prosecutor in the Special Prosecution of Kosovo dealing with cases of war crimes, I am committed to discover and investigate cases of sexual violence during the war. War crimes are not subject to statutory limitation and there will never be amnesty for those who committed these horrid crimes. Therefore, it is never too late to report a case. Only with concrete commitment and cooperation, and with proper law enforcement, can we provide justice for the victims and punishment for war criminals.

What motivates you in undertaking the challenging task of prosecuting conflict-related sexual violence?

Personally, I see it as a human responsibility, as well as a legal obligation to deal with these cases until they are fully resolved.

Notes

[1] References to Kosovo shall be understood to be in the context of Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999).

*Updated on 12 June to reflect corrected information