Rape as a Weapon of War: A Conversation with Former Kosovo President Atifete Jahjaga
January 31, 2019
Kathleen H. Hicks: All right. Good evening, everyone. I’m Kathleen Hicks. I direct the international security program, and I’m a senior vice president here at CSIS. And together with Beverly Kirk, who as usual is hiding on the side, I have the privilege of leading the Smart Women, Smart Power Initiative here for CSIS. We’re so pleased that all of you could come out on this very frigid evening to welcome the former president of Kosovo, President Jahjaga, for a conversation about an issue that’s so difficult, yet so important for us to be talking about, rape as a weapon of war. The president began working to help victims while she was still in office. And we’re eager to hear today about the efforts that she’s still leading.
Kathleen H. Hicks: First, a few social media reminders. We always like to have you following us on Twitter. We are @SmartWomen. That couldn’t be easier. And be sure also to check out our Smart Women podcast, which Beverly Kirk moderates. And it’s on iTunes, it’s on Spotify, and you can find it pretty much anywhere where you like to listen to good content. If you are live tweeting please use hashtag #CSISLive.
Kathleen H. Hicks: I want to invite up right now Kristin Solheim, who’s the director of federal government affairs at Citi. Our Smart Women, Smart Power speaker series wouldn’t be possible without support from Citi, and so we really thank Kristin, her colleagues, and the Citi organization for helping us amplify the voices of women in foreign policy, national security, and international business. Kristin.
Kristin Solheim: Thanks. (Applause.) Thank you, Kathleen. Welcome, everyone. Thanks for joining us for our first event of 2019. Citi’s proud to bring together women leaders in foreign policy, national security, and the business community to convene dialogues on some of the most pressing issues facing our world. Tonight’s speaker embodies the—what the series is all about. And I just cannot wait to hear what she’s going to talk about. It’s an absolute honor to have the President Jahjaga here with us tonight to talk about her amazing career and life in Kosovo, and what she did as president, and all of her things that she’s doing outside of office. But the first female president of Kosovo, the youngest female head of state, the accolades go on and on.
Kristin Solheim: At Citi, we work and live in more than 100 countries. Not sure what we’re doing in Kosovo, but I need to get more detail on that. We talk about the business advantage that our global footprint offers. It also gives us a unique vantage point on challenges and opportunities all around the world. We confront those daily challenges by providing financial services that enable growth and progress.
Kristin Solheim: President Jahjaga inherited an incredible set of challenges, and is credited, through her hard work, of putting Kosovo on the global stage. I know you can’t wait to hear from her, and neither can I, so I’ll turn the stage back over to you. Thank you. (Applause.)
Kathleen H. Hicks: Thank you, Kristin. So it’s my pleasure to introduce our speaker and moderator tonight. President Jahjaga, as Kristin said, is the first woman to have served as president of Kosovo. And she used her office between 2011 and 2016, in part, to put women at the center of Kosovo’s political, economic, and social life. She was convinced doing so would help ensure Kosovo’s future as a democracy. Prior to becoming president, she worked in law enforcement, serving as a police officer beginning in the early – in early 2000, excuse me, and rising to the rank of general lieutenant colonel in the Kosovo police, before becoming deputy general director in 2009. So, as you can tell, president is the foremost of her positions, but she has many other. We can call her General President, if you prefer.
Kathleen H. Hicks: Our moderator tonight, as always, is the incomparable CSIS Senior Associate Nina Easton. Nina is also chair of Fortune’s Most Powerful Women International Summit, and she co-chair’s Fortune’s Global Forum. Again, thanks to everyone for joining us. And I’m turning it over now to Nina. (Applause.)
Nina Easton: So I want to share with the audience a little moment from backstage, where we had – we had a power woman moment, with Madam Ambassador from Albania and Madam Ambassador from Kosovo. I want to welcome you both here to honor the president as well. Thank you. Thank you so much. (Applause.)
Nina Easton: And I’m sure you, even in this room, are – like most Americans – don’t know a lot about Kosovo. So I took the opportunity to ask Madam Ambassador from Kosovo a little bit more about the country. It’s two years younger than Twitter. That’s – (laughter) – a nice little fact. And it’s, while majority Muslim, it’s quite multicultural. And you shared with me that Mother Theresa was actually from Kosovo. So two interesting facts to start the evening.
Nina Easton: Madam President, we are so honored to have you here. Thank you so much for coming.
Atifete Jahjaga: Thank you very much, Nina. It’s such a pleasure for me to be here.
Nina Easton: So before we get into what was really a journey for you, a personal journey as well as a political journey on the issue of sexual violence and rape as a weapon of war, let’s talk about – a little bit about your background. You grew up in the former Yugoslavia. Tell us about your childhood and what your parents did.
Atifete Jahjaga: Well, now thank you very much. And I’m really delighted to be with you this afternoon. And it is truly my honor to be a part of the Smart Women and Smart Power, this discussion series. And I want to use this opportunity and thank Madam Hicks and the CSIS for the invitation.
Atifete Jahjaga: At the same time, I want to congratulate Madam Hicks and her extraordinary team for their continuous efforts to bring together women leaders from around the world to be able to share their ideas, to be able to share their best practices, and to highlight time and again the importance of the women inclusion into the – into the process of the policymaking and into the process of the decision-making. So thank you very much for offering this platform for many women leaders around the world.
Atifete Jahjaga: Well, how was my youth, actually? Well, dear Nina, unfortunately, my youth has been definitely shaped by many of the things and the surroundings that were taking place starting from the political and all the way down to the other hostilities that we were able and that we had the fortune to live as the young people and as the child during bad time. But neither myself, neither the entire generation of my time had a different youth than I did during that time.
Atifete Jahjaga: While the beginning of the ’90s for many countries in the Europe or so many countries in the Europe started to celebrate the democracy and the fall of the repressive regimes, for us in the Balkans a new dark and bloody period was about to start. Kosovo at that time was a part of the former Yugoslavia, while for the ethnical/religious differences and for the territorial ambitions neighbors were turned into the sworn enemies. During the repression time and during the Milosevic regime, the situation was getting only worse and worse for each and every one who was living in Kosovo at that time, till the point that for our families was even harder to – even impossible even to secure for the basic needs, because all of the decision about us were made in Belgrade and most of those decision or better saying all of those decision were only discriminating us further.
Atifete Jahjaga: And so as a child –
Nina Easton: So how did that affect you on a personal level, like your day to day life and your family’s life?
Atifete Jahjaga: Well, actually, as a child and as the young girl, my entire life has been shaped through this, going through this repression regime, that I simply – neither me, neither my other generation fellow citizens, we barely had a life and we barely had a youth or the childhood in this kind of the periods. And it was not – it was even hard not to be aware what was going on.
Atifete Jahjaga: For instance, we as the Kosovar Albanians, we were not permitted even to attend the public schools because we have been segregated by the Serbian students from all levels of the education. And before 1997, before the conflict has erupted, for over almost one decade we have been obliged to establish the parallel system of education where we as students and our professors, we were conducting all of our classes in private houses, in so-called makeshift schools. And many of our family members and many of the Albanian families put their own life in danger by opening the doors of their houses knowing very well that soon they will be prosecuted by that time regime, by the police, military, and paramilitary forces. And I can tell you that in my time over 100,000 students were permanently moved into over 3,200 houses, basement, and garage which were turned into the temporary school facilities. And no matter how hard situation it was, nothing could put in the question mark our eagerness to learn.
Atifete Jahjaga: And I remember very vividly and I remember at that time that in my class we were about over 48 students in a small room, which was not even a classroom, which had no doors. It had no windows because the Serbian police and paramilitary, military forces were coming, were breaking everything out. They were beating us up. They were beating our teachers and sometimes taking one or two of us and sometimes most some of them to never return anymore back. And so in this –
Nina Easton: Did you witness this? Did you see this all the time?
Atifete Jahjaga: Oh, I witnessed – I witnessed almost every second day. And I remember that two times I myself had a boot – boots of the police officers in my neck lying in the ground of that classroom or that room.
Nina Easton: How old were you?
Atifete Jahjaga: I was in my second year of the secondary school. And so we were very young during that time, and we had very limited access into the books in Albanian because the books in Albanian were banned for the circulation during that time. And while, my dear friends, for many of you going to school and coming back to school supposed to be a normal routine, for us during this time it was the moment that we dreaded mostly, that we feared mostly, especially –
Nina Easton: So were you in physical fear, it sounds like? Was –
Atifete Jahjaga: It was continuous for the years, for entire my secondary school and entire term of my university. And we especially for our parents, that they had the most fear because of their own children. And we had continuously these big questions for ourself that we had not even an answer to that. Would we – would we be caught? Would we be prosecuted? Or would we make it at home at the end of the day?
Nina Easton: That’s really – that’s quite something to have to survive. I mean –
Atifete Jahjaga: Yeah, because we have been deprived from a basic right, from the right of the education, from the right of the quality education, from that time regime.
Nina Easton: But you finished school and you went to law school. Why?
Atifete Jahjaga: Well, before going to answering to why I joined – decide to join to the law, I would like to say a few words how actually the war has affected in all of us, and especially in my generation and ambassador’s generation as well. That definitely has had a huge impact on me.
Atifete Jahjaga: And each and every one who has experienced the war and has lived through the war can attest to that. War changes your perspective on almost everything, and especially about the security, which we do not take it for granted. War has left very deep consequences for our country and our people. And 20 years ago, my dear ladies and gentlemen, we haven’t heard of the country that has been totally destroyed, not only from the infrastructure point of view but especially from the human lives. Twenty years ago we haven’t heard of the country which has left behind over 13,000 people killed and massacred, an estimated number of 20,000 women and men raped, where rape has been used as a tool of war, and about 1,600 people missing still today’s date in the massive graves within the territory of Kosovo and the territory of Serbia. And for the continuous 20 years, the denial approach by our northern neighbor of Serbia to cooperate with the institutions of Kosovo to share the information, to share the maps and the statistics of these mass graves where the remains of our loved ones are.
Atifete Jahjaga: So the wounds are very deep. The consequences has been very deep. But surviving it has given us hope and has given us courage to be able to maintain that hard-won peace, that we all know very well that the war does not end only when the bombing ends. The consequences are much longer than we think of that. And so –
Nina Easton: Yeah, there’s a reference to the Kosovo generation, your generation. I mean, just take us back into that again. Day to day, what was your life like? It was – how long was the war and what was your life like?
Atifete Jahjaga: Well, the war itself took over two-and-a-half years, and while the repression time took over two decades. That was continuous repression from the Milosevic regime towards the – all people of Kosovo and the institutions of our country. And I personally lived my entire life in Kosovo. I lived through the repression time. And I lived also during the war time. And only during the major bombing in Pristina, in the capital city, I never forget that we together – with my mom, my father and my brother – we were locked in our apartment, mainly in the bathrooms, because it is surrounded with much concrete there. And we were staying for over four months not being able even to see the daylight or even to go outside. So we will not even give the signal that there is living human beings in these locations, because my parents were afraid of my life and the life of my brother at that time.
Atifete Jahjaga: So going back to your point, why I chose law and why I chose then to join to my other career, well, as a young student of that time, I had to live and to witness the first-hand the inequality, oppression, and deprivation of all the rights. And living under the Milosevic regime, and living through the time when thousands of the Kosovar-Albanian men and women, that they were dared to think differently, that they were soon to be facing with the strong and the ruthless hand of the regime of that time, which many of them became the political prisoners, that in many of the human reports – human rights reports of that time, they were stating that and witnessing that most of those political prisoners, they were even denied the right for the fair trial.
Atifete Jahjaga: And so living through – my entire life through this injustice that was – I was exposed, that my family has been exposed, and my fellow citizen, which was becoming unbearable, I have decided to join towards the law. And I have made – not only myself but my entire generation – has made a promise and a pledge to ourselves that whatever we have gone through, we will never, ever allow to happen to anyone, not anymore in that part of the world, in our country. And so the darkest period of our country has ended with the humanitarian intervention of NATO, which has paved the way for the liberation of Kosovo, at the same time setting the foundation for the declaration – for the establishing of the new institutions of Kosovo. And by doing that, to establish the new Kosovo police organization.
Atifete Jahjaga: And immediately after the end of the war, back in 2000, I was a young graduated lawyer, very passionate about the future of our country, the new page which was flipping for our country. I started to work for the United Nation office in Kosovo. And telling you the truth, immediately after the end of the war, to work for one international organization was one of the best jobs that you could hope, immediately after the end of the war. So I decided after a few months of working for the U.N. to quit my job. By not only quitting for my salary for 20 times more, but I did for two reasons. One, to be a part of that positive change that was about to happen for our country and, second one, to be able to be a part of the change for one institution, which the role of the women has viewed – has been viewed with a big question mark towards an institution that I was about to join.
Atifete Jahjaga: And so in my entire life, Nina and my dear friends here, I have been in search for freedom, for equality, and for justice. And I consider that momentum would be the right momentum to give my contribution in creating a more just and more inclusive Kosovo, which would give an equal opportunity to each and every citizen of our country. And joining and creating the new Kosovo police organization has been a part of that. And so it has been a quite daunting process.
Atifete Jahjaga: It has been very intensive and a quite challenging period for two reasons. One reason is because the police organization during the wartime and before the war has been more viewed as an organization that was a part of the state, was a tool of state, it was tool of the repression. And in the eyes of our people, in the eyes of our citizens, especially the Kosovo Albanians, when they see the uniform of the police, what they’ve seen is they’ve seen torture, they’ve seen prosecution and they’ve seen killing instead of seeing somebody which is there to serve you and to protect you. And so this was a part of the challenge, to be able to change the mindset of the people of Kosovo about the newly created police organization that is there to serve them, that is there to protect them.
Nina Easton: To bring security to an insecure situation.
Atifete Jahjaga: To bring security in a very insecure situation, which is across the board, no matter of your ethnical background or no matter of your religious background, especially that from the very beginning the Kosovo police organization was created in the base that our country, it has been established as a very multiethnic organization which has opened its arms to include each and every one from our society.
Atifete Jahjaga: The second challenge has been to introduce the role of the women within the police organization. Where before the war, there were no women in uniform within the police organization because Kosovo, like the rest of the southeastern part of the Europe, as we refer to many times as the Western Balkans – and maybe it’s not different from many other countries in the world – is quite a male-dominated society, very patriarchal society. And the job for the police was not seen as a job for the women. And so I wanted to change that perception regarding the role of the women within the police organization by being one of the very first women to join the police organization, which it has been quite a challenge itself, which has been viewed from one part of the society with quite optimism and with kind of the positive approach seeing the role of the women within the police organization. While at the same time, you had the other skeptics, that they have been resisting in a way the presence of the women within the police organization, that that job is simply is not for the women, that job is more for the man that has muscles and that can really protect their society.
Atifete Jahjaga: But it has shown only within the first two years of the inclusion of the women within the Kosovo police that the role of the women has contributed in increasing the percentage of the trust of the – of the people, their perception towards the police organization. And so Kosovo police has been and continues to be one of the most trusted institutions in the country. And the women have played definitely a crucial role.
Atifete Jahjaga: And so that’s why I have decided to join the law, that’s why I have just decided to join towards the police organization. And for me, it has been an utmost honor and pleasure that I was able to serve with that organization and to serve to my country and my people.
Nina Easton: So you broke a barrier going into the police, and then you broke a barrier again, becoming the first female president in this male-dominated society. What would be your advice to women following you and doing the same?
Atifete Jahjaga: Well, it’s true that when I was elected as the president of Kosovo – and our ambassador can attest to that – our country was facing with and going through a deep political, economical and social crisis. One year before my election, the constitutional court of Kosovo ruled down two presidents for the violation of the constitution. And definitely my election has been viewed with quite skepticism by many of the power holders of that time, but at the same time has given so much hope, especially towards the women and towards the young people of the country and towards the marginalized groups.
Atifete Jahjaga: And so the only advice that I have always given to all of the women, not only in my country and wider, has been that each and every one of them needs to believe in themselves, they need to believe in their potential and never ever make a compromise with the values which they stand for and what they believe in that.
Nina Easton: So let’s turn to the question of sexual violence and rape, because it was a personal journey for you in actually facing this. You’ve got a war crime that carries such a stigma that it is – it’s very difficult to address. You didn’t even turn to the issue until, what, your third year as president? What made you take this on?
Atifete Jahjaga: Well, Nina, it is slightly different actually. It was literally the very first three weeks when I was elected as the president of Kosovo that I came across to meet the first – the survivors of the sexual violence in Kosovo. As a citizen of Kosovo, as a woman of Kosovo, I was aware that this crime has happened in our country, especially because of my background as a rule of law that I was aware. But I did not became aware up to that level until the time that I had met for the first time the survivors of the sexual violence in one town, which is in the heart of our country, which after I met them, Nina, and even now that I talk, I have major emotions because it changed me forever, not only as a woman of that country, but also as the president leading that highest office in my country.
Atifete Jahjaga: When I met a mother, that she was raped exactly the same day with her three daughters, she was only 37 years of age. Her oldest daughter was 17, the other daughter was 15 and the youngest one was 13. Her mother happened to be that day visiting her there. And without being able to cope what has happened to her daughter and granddaughters, she went outside, jumped into the well of water and committed suicide.
Atifete Jahjaga: I met a mother, that she was six months pregnant when this has happened to her. She miscarried the child. And she never had the chance of becoming a mother again.
Atifete Jahjaga: I met a mother, that she was kept hostage in an abandoned factory in that same village for over six months with her five children and in-laws, raping her every single day in front of her children, in front of her in-laws. Three times she tried to commit suicide by drinking chemicals. And the day when the paramilitary and the police forces were ordered to leave that location, they even raped her 5-years-old daughter.
Nina Easton: Oh, my God.
Atifete Jahjaga: So after speaking to those 35 women that day in that room and 350 more and 3,000 more as the months were going on, in my office, it changed me forever.
Nina Easton: Were they able – were they willingly telling you these stories, they were ready to talk about it?
Atifete Jahjaga: I remember the first because it was their initiative to get in contact with me. It was literally the very first day when I took over the office when my protocol has said to me that there is a woman there that is continuously calling and trying to talk to you directly, but we cannot pass the phone to you. And I said, like, who is this woman and why you are not passing the phone? Because the protocol doesn’t allow to pass the phone, unverified people. And what’s her story, please? I asked the chief of protocol at that time and he said she said that she’s raped during the wartime. I said, like, stop now. I said, just pass the line to me. “But.” I said, there is no but; just pass the line on my desk. So I pick up the phone, and there was a lady in the other side of the war said, like, am I talking to the president? I said, like, yes, it’s the president. They’re like, no, it’s one of her staff; said, like, just please pass me to the president. I said: Calm down. It is the president. And she goes, no, that’s not your voice. I don’t know – I said, I don’t know how my voice is coming through the phone – (laughter) – but it is me. It is the president. Can I please hear your story? And she goes, you need to come and meet me and 30 other women from my village, and you have to listen what we have gone through because this is the only chance that we have, 13 years after the end of the war, that we have the feeling that you as a woman, that one of us can listen to our suffering and to listen to our demands, and can be fighting for our rights.
Atifete Jahjaga: And so this is how I started immediately to deal. And I knew it that this is going to be, and I made it actually, one of my top priorities in the office as the president, to be dealing with the status of the survivors of the sexual violence during the war, to bring them peace, and to bring them the justice for those 13 years.
Nina Easton: And their stories – let’s fill out their stories a little bit. Obviously, you talked about what happened with the raped. What was the fallout with the men in their lives, with pregnancies from rape? What has transpired in those women’s lives afterwards?
Atifete Jahjaga: Well, before going to this, well, as soon as I heard these women, I came back to the office and I have asked my entire team in the office to analyze thoroughly my competencies, and to shake out the entire constitution, and to find the way which will give me the power to act on this matter. Because I don’t know how many of you have been – you were able to read about Kosovo. Kosovo is a parliamentary democracy where the executive power falls under the parliament, under the government, legislative under the parliament while the president is responsible for the foreign policy and the national security. So legally speaking and constitutionally speaking, I had no power to act on this particular matter.
Atifete Jahjaga: At the same time, I was facing with a tremendous refusal by the entire institutions of our country because, simply, I could not believe that first we, as the institution, and then as the society of Kosovo, for over 13 years we have kept this topic as the taboo topic that we have continuously built into this stigma around the survivors of the sexual violence, that we couldn’t – that we didn’t do nothing whatsoever to elevate their pain that the survivors of the sexual violence, they have been going through; that we have unjustly covered them with this veil of shame and unjustly pointing the fingers towards the – them as survivors instead of pointing the fingers towards the perpetrators of these horrendous crimes. And how come that we as the institutions of Kosovo, while we have taken all of our obligation towards all other survivors of the war, we simply – we did not take the responsibility for the survivors of the sexual violence? And so many of them or a majority of them have been living in a tremendous bad social condition because some of them, they have been abandoned from family due to the stigma and due to the way how the sexual violence has been seen by our general public, in a way kind of like that was they were our shame instead of consider them the way that they supposed to be considered – as our heroes, as our heroines of the war. Because while each and every one of us, we have been enjoying our liberty and our freedom, in the hearts and minds of each and every survivor there is still a war.
Atifete Jahjaga: Like, each and every one of them says to me even now that I talk to them: Madam President, every time that we turn the light off and we go to sleep, these horrendous scenes come back to us. We have no peace in our hearts and mind before we see whoever has conducted this crime to be facing with the justice. We did not recognize that their bodies were turned into the battlefield. And we did not recognize that the rape has been used as a tool of war. None of the international organization that was present in Kosovo, that is present in Kosovo, did not recognize, and it’s still not recognized. Even as today’s date that we are speaking for 20 years after the end of the war. Every springtime that the secretary-general of United Nation public the report the violence against women, they do not include Kosovo and 20,000 women of Kosovo that have been raped during the wartime, that the rape has been used as a tool of war.
Nina Easton: Why is that, that even the U.N. –
Atifete Jahjaga: Because of the political reason. Because Kosovo is not members state of United Nation. So can you imagine the organization which is called to protect the human rights, it is in a way violating the international convention for the human rights.
Nina Easton: Wow. So let’s go back to you trying to do something about this. You’re president, you’ve heard these stories. Talk about the pushback you got as you tried to bring justice.
Atifete Jahjaga: Well, I became aware back in 2011 immediately, as I said, after I was elected as a president. And it took me over two and a half years. As a matter of fact, it was the first try was when we organized the global summit of women – myself together with Secretary Albright at that time – in October 2012. And as a result of this global summit of women, when we had about 190 countries around the world, women leaders participating in Pristina. As an outcome, we take the so-called Pristina principles. And one of the very first topics in these Pristina principle was to recognize the status of the survivors of the sexual violence as the civilian victims of the war.
Atifete Jahjaga: And so to my biggest surprise, I remember it was literally a month and a half after, in December of 2012. We send these principles to be passed in the parliament of Kosovo as the resolution in the parliament of Kosovo, and amending the law on the war values, and incorporating the survivors of the sexual violence as the civilian victims of the war. I could not believe to myself, and Ambassador Rushiti, a minister in our government, about the level of the debate that took part in my country, that took part inf our own parliament. That 13 – and at that time actually it was 14 years after the end of the war, that we had the members of the parliament that they were even raising the fingers to propose to conduct the gynecological testing towards each and every survivor of the sexual violence.
Atifete Jahjaga: So that was reaching the boiling point for me and my office, and all other women leaders in the country, that what is enough? It is enough. We cannot continue stigmatizing them more because of certain of the moral norms in our country. And so it took me over two and a half years to analyze where the large legal team in my office and outside of my office were in a way shaking the constitution to find me the proper legal base. And back in 2014, I established the National Council for the Sexual Violence, which was the platform established with a special decree by the president, chaired by myself at that time, which revolved around the same decision-making table – the prime minister, the president of the parliament, certain ministers, members of the parliament, the civil society, members of the international organization, diplomatic corps, and the media.
Atifete Jahjaga: And within one month of the work of the national council, the law on the – recognizing the status of the victims of the sexual violence as the civilian victims of the war has been passed in the parliament of Kosovo, with the majority of the votes in our parliament. So no matter of the opposition that we have been facing, mainly by the main politicians that time, that their only argument was that the people are not ready, Madam President, to open this chapter of our painful history. But apparently they were very much wrong, that the people were ready. Who was not ready? It was certain political leaders and the power holders, that they were not sure how the people would be reacting towards that. Because I remember as soon as we passed a law in the parliament of Kosovo and what kind of – (inaudible) – this has had, not only among the survivors of the sexual violence because, for the first time after 15 years after the end of the war, they felt that they had been able to breathe freely, and that their sacrifice for war has been recognized, and that they are not anymore in a way stigmatized, and it’s not anymore only the taboo topic, but they are being treated as the heroines, as they are, of our country.
Atifete Jahjaga: And so, at the same time, we have acted in the – all other levels with their reintegration, rehabilitation, and resocialization, and all the way down to the access or to the economic empowerment as the part of the rehabilitation and resocialization processes. In this I had a huge partnership as well while I was having the other opposition where, in the beginning when I started this topic and none of the political class was supporting me, neither the parliament, neither the government; only a few of the women organizations that I have been, and I continuously be grateful that they were the only open door to them, to these survivors after the end of the war. When we as the institution has failed them, they were the one that opened the door, starting from the medical services and all the way down to the psychological service that they have provided to them.
Atifete Jahjaga: And then we have the women caucus, where our ambassador was a part of that. We have engaged the women ministers that time. And so to create a totally different momentum that was immediately reflecting positively also in the way how the general public was percepting a rape which has been used as a tool of war towards Kosovo.
Atifete Jahjaga: But something that has not been addressed properly and is still one of the main handicaps for Kosovo and the survivors of the sexual violence – but it is an handicap in a global level – is the culture of impunity. Since the end of the war, we do not have not even a single perpetrator that has been put forward to the justice, neither in the courts of Kosovo, neither the courts of Serbia, neither at the international courts for the crime or where the rape has been used as a tool of war.
Atifete Jahjaga: So this culture of impunity that is dominating in Kosovo, it is undermined or putting under the shadow all of the success that we were able to achieve for this over five years of the intensive work and coordination with all of other stakeholders in the country. And rightly, many of the reports today’s date are referring that Kosovo is one of the best success stories when you speak about the survivors of the sexual violence. What we have done for these past five years that has not been done even in the Bosnia case, neither in the African countries or in the Middle East countries, but this culture of impunity, and having Serbia to be more accountable and to be more responsible for the crimes that that time regime has done in Kosovo. I’m afraid of that success will be able to slide back in case if Serbia or the international community will not hold Serbia accountable for the crimes that they have conducted unjustly towards the innocent people of Kosovo.
Nina Easton: So I wanted to turn to the audience. And get your questions ready; we’ll come around and collect them and ask them.
Nina Easton: So, Madam President, you raised an excellent question. Particularly as a former police commissioner, there’s two sides to this equation. There is recognizing victims, and then the other side, though, is bringing criminals, rapists to justice. And how do you get there? How do you get there in any of the situations that we see around the world today?
Atifete Jahjaga: Well, unfortunately, the rape being used as a tool of war, it’s continuously being used and it’s widespread around the world. And as we speak, this is –
Nina Easton: And let me stop you right there because I did want to ask this. Like, why is it so effective? It’s a form of terror.
Atifete Jahjaga: It is. It is, in a way. And so as we speak today this is happening in Syria, it is happening in South Sudan, it is happen in the Central African Republic, it’s happening in Yemen. And what is even worse, it is that the survivors are being further punished instead of working the other way around; where, because of this culture of the impunity which is dominating globally, and with this lack of the global leadership into keeping the countries accountable and responsible for the crimes that has been committed, there is so much that can be done and there is so much things that can be easily done. But we should also not forget that each and every country, they have their own specification, started from the cultural and all the way down to the political context.
Atifete Jahjaga: But two things that has to be immediately and should be obvious when you’re faced with these matters to be addressed are, first of all, is documentation and tackling the culture of impunity; and second one is the prevention and tackling the grassroots of the – of the violence against women in general, something that all of the countries everywhere that we have the violence against women are failing to do their job properly. But who is failing mostly is the international organization, is international community, holding these countries accountable to that.
Atifete Jahjaga: And when I’m in this point, I just want to appreciate the activism and the championship of two of I’m calling them the heroes of the century, Nadia Murad and Dr. Denis Mukwege, that they have been that voice of reason on behalf of all of the survivors around the world, recognize the sacrifice no matter from which corner of the world they are coming from, and the task and the responsibilities each and every organization has when they deal with the survivors of the sexual violence. That has been heard well and accepted even by the Nobel Prize Committee on behalf of all the survivors of the sexual violence. So we need more these kind of the heroes. We need more of these champions to be able to speak on behalf of the survivors of the sexual violence.
Atifete Jahjaga: But as much as we build in this culture of impunity, I am afraid that we are just making steps backwards.
Nina Easton: You do?
Atifete Jahjaga: Yeah. If you don’t bring perpetrators in front of the justice, and if you don’t hold the countries and the regimes accountable for this, then how you can make the steps forward?
Nina Easton: So speaking of being a voice for the voiceless, I wanted to – Madam President has put together this incredible book on memory stories about women survivors of sexual violence in Kosovo. This is not yet available here, but we’re hoping to get a publisher for you in New York. (Laughs.) And there’s also this lovely and very powerful painting done by a survivor. Did you want to talk about that a minute?
Atifete Jahjaga: Yes, please. Actually, starting from the book “I Want to Be Heard,” actually it is one of the general message that the survivors of the sexual violence in Kosovo and everywhere in the world they want. Because what the survivors around the world they need is just a ear that they can heard their requirements and their demands, and a voice that can speak on their behalf. And this book is the collections of many stories of the survivors of the sexual violence throughout the country which I supported and I did the foreword for this book. Unfortunately, it’s still in a very limited copy within our country, but I was promised here that they will try to help me and help the women of Kosovo to find the way to find a publisher here that we can make their voice to be heard more, because we need their voices to be heard and what they have been suffering and living through for these past 20 years after the end of the war.
Atifete Jahjaga: And the painting, when I took your offer to come here and speak to your wonderful audience, just the first – the last week of December, I have attended an exhibition which was supported by the U.N. women in Kosovo with three nongovernmental organizations, women nongovernmental organizations in Pristina, where part of the rehabilitation process was also the way how the survivors of the sexual violence would be expressing that moment how they are feeling through the painting.
Atifete Jahjaga: And so many of our very well-known artists in the country, they came to work one-on-one with the survivors of the sexual violence in Kosovo. And I selected – and all of the money of the selling of these paintings was going back into economic empowerment and for the treatment of the survivors of the sexual violence. So I purchased this one which has – the message of that is that it is a way of looking forward and the peace that we want, to get it back for ourselves and for the rest of the survivors. And I wanted to bring it to you in order to have it in your institute here, that the voice of the survivors of the sexual violence will continue to be heard and seen by many of your guests here.
Nina Easton: Well, thank you so much for sharing that.
Nina Easton: Our first question from the audience. You talk about holder perpetrators accountable and we talk about international organizations not doing enough. What specifically has to change in the international community? What specifically needs to be done to bring perpetrators to justice on the international level?
Atifete Jahjaga: Well, starting from our own case, as I said, that since the end of the war, we do not have even a single perpetrator that has been brought to justice, while –
Nina Easton: Was there an attempt made?
Atifete Jahjaga: There have been hundreds and thousands of attempts. There have been hundreds of cases that have been built since the end of the war in Kosovo. As we speak today, we have the first survivors of the sexual violence, that she has spoken publicly in Kosovo back in October. And she was one of the very first ladies that she reported her case immediately after the end of the war because she was 16 years old when she was taken from her house, raped by the police forces for a couple of times and then brought back at home. And immediately, as soon as the war has been ended, back in 1999, she went and reported the case, together with her entire family, because she had all of the proof and all of the evidence in her hands available, even knowing by face and by name the perpetrators because they were, some of them, they were neighbors –
Nina Easton: Living there, yeah.
Atifete Jahjaga: – and others they knew them by the names that they were referring to themselves or to the rank that they have been referring during the time that they were doing that action of a crime towards her. And so that case has been dropped by the international judges and prosecutors in Kosovo for the lack of the evidence. So that’s why I said the documentation, it is very important, holding the countries accountable and international organizations. For example, Serbia, since the end of the war in Kosovo, is refusing to cooperate with the institutions of Kosovo to extradite these perpetrators towards Kosovo in order for us to be able to hold the fair process of the trial for the perpetrators of these horrendous crimes.
Nina Easton: Right, right. How do you rebuild communities after so many people have been wiped out, whose families have been targeted and destroyed? How do you rebuild these communities? What’s the secret sauce to doing that?
Atifete Jahjaga: Well, it is a very daunting task, as I said in the very beginning, because you don’t only have to deal with the survivor of the sexual violence or the missing people, but you have the entire family which bear the consequences out of that and the entire society by default automatically goes into that. And there is not a single formula that you can say that it can work here, it worked there, and it by all means has to work here as well, because I think I mentioned earlier that each and every country have their own specification, and they are starting from their ethical and moral norms and all the way down to the political circumstances. And so, in our country, maybe it was the openness of the people and it was that solidarity among our family, not necessarily in the very beginning but later on after understanding, that they have kind of like rallied together. Then institutional support, it is very crucial to be able to initiate these processes and to offer these platforms that you can be able to build into this collective healing of the wounds of the war. And this cannot be done within a night. This takes years. This takes decades. For us, it take over 20 years, and I am afraid it’s going to take for another generation or two.
Nina Easton: So, unfortunately, we’re running out of time. And I’m going to end on a wonderful personal question. You’ve overcome so many challenges, discrimination or even the obstacles on this issue. Did you ever feel like giving up? And if so, what made you go on?
Atifete Jahjaga: (Laughs.) By nature I am not a person that gives up very easily. I do not know an answer – no for an answer. There is always a way if there is a will, anyway. And so I was lucky enough that I was born in a family and I was raised in the family, and I was always accompanied by the friends and the colleagues that has always encouraged me and supported me in the – on the vision that I had forward. And women and youth has been always my weakest and my most pride, this element, of my entire career. And so they are the energy that does – never allows me to give up on anything.
Nina Easton: So one sentence, piece of advice to young women in this room about overcoming obstacles.
Atifete Jahjaga: Going back to what I said in the very beginning, is believing on themselves. Please, believe in yourself. Believe in your potential, because there is nothing in this world that you cannot do it. And never, ever make compromise with the values and the things that you stand for.
Nina Easton: Madam President, beautiful words to end on. (Applause.)
Atifete Jahjaga: Thank you. (Applause.)
Nina Easton: Thank you so much. (Applause.) Thank you all for coming, so much. We’re having a reception afterwards. Please join. And thank you again, Madam President.
Atifete Jahjaga: Thank you very much, Nina. It was my pleasure to be here with you.