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Rights activists say West failed Kosovo rape victims

HDN | 3/23/2000 12:00:00 AM |

Pristina - The Associated Press Human rights activists are demanding the West do more to reach out to women who were raped during Kosovo's war, insisting a concerted effort should be made to help victims seek treatment and justice. A Human Rights Watch report released late on Tuesday presents what the organization calls 96 "credible" cases of rape and other sexual abuses allegedly committed during the Kosovo conflict. Rape and other forms of sexual violence were used in Kosovo as "weapons

Pristina - The Associated Press

Human rights activists are demanding the West do more to reach out to women who were raped during Kosovo's war, insisting a concerted effort should be made to help victims seek treatment and justice.

A Human Rights Watch report released late on Tuesday presents what the organization calls 96 "credible" cases of rape and other sexual abuses allegedly committed during the Kosovo conflict. Rape and other forms of sexual violence were used in Kosovo as "weapons of war and instruments of 'ethnic cleansing"' during last year's Serb crackdown on the province, according to the 37-page report by the New York-based group. "Each of the rapes documented in this report is a war crime ... prohibited by international humanitarian law," the report said.

Simultaneously, the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, convened a landmark rape trial Monday against three Serbs charged with running a network of camps where Muslim women and girls were beaten, gang-raped and forced to bear "Serb" babies during the Bosnian war. The trial marks the first time an international court will hear a case about camps set up specifically to rape women. It is part of an attempt by U.N. prosecutors to make wartime sexual assault one of the most grievous and punishable crimes under international law.

Though the 96 cases chronicled in the Kosovo report are far less than the number of cases recorded in Bosnia, activists in Kosovo said so little had been done to help women overcome the stigma attached to rape in this patriarchal society that it was a miracle anyone came forward. Those who step forward are usually subjected to the long, often degrading process of recounting their stories for criminal trial, knowing little is likely to come of it, said Sevdie Ahmeti of the Center for Protection of Women and Children, a local women's rights organization that has done some work with victims.

The victims' testimonies in the report were gathered by local and international human rights workers, focusing on rapes that occurred leading up to and during last year's 78-day NATO bombing campaign. The report described 35 cases of women being pulled off of refugee caravans fleeing Kosovo. Other women were attacked while at home or while being detained, the report said. Unlike in Bosnia, where rape and other abuses were well-documented, it has been more difficult to identify perpetrators in Kosovo because, in many cases, the rapes happened as the refugees were moving in the massive human exodus that was one of the most integral features of the Kosovo war. That fact alone, Ahmeti said, prevented women from seeking redress. The physical evidence on a woman's body was often gone by the time victims reached a place safe enough to offer testimony. By then, Ahmeti said, "the bruises and the bites had healed.

" The non-governmental agencies that deal with women's issues haven't advertised, fearing the few women that had managed to receive help would be exposed and tarred by the cultural taboos, said Annette Lyth, a legal adviser for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Worse still, no effort has been made to persuade men to abandon stereotypes about sexual violence. Ethnic Albanian community leaders - from rock stars to political dignitaries - must denounce violence against women, Lyth said. "What is more moral?" Lyth asked. "To leave your wife after she is raped by the enemy, or to take care of her?"

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