Posted on Apr 26, 2021
In a historic move, Kosovo’s President Vjosa Osmani met with wartime sexual violence survivor and MP Vasfije Krasniqi-Goodman last week to memorialise the day Krasniqi-Goodman was raped by Serbian police officers during the Yugoslavian wars in the 1990s.
Thanks to their efforts, April 14th will now be marked as the Day of Sexual Violence Survivors for the thousands of people who endured sexual violence over that dark period.
“April 14th remains the date when [Vasfije Krasniqi’s] life changed forever,” President Omani wrote, “we also must fight side by side with her and many other women and men like her, to tell the truth, and seek justice.”
The move marks a vital first step toward tackling the legacy of trauma and stigma which have marred the lives of thousands for decades. In 2018, Krasniqi-Goodman became the first woman to share, on TV and without hiding her identity, the details of her rape when she was only 16 years old. But for most women, coming forward to claim the status of “survivor of wartime sexual violence” is fraught with fears of ostracisation and re-traumatization.
The scale of the silence is calculable: Kosovo’s Commission to Recognise and Verify Survivors of Sexual Violence opened the door to applications for an officially recognised “survivor status” in 2018, with successful applicants eligible for benefits such as monthly payments of 230 euros- well above the monthly minimum wage of 130 euros. Only 1,220 applications have been received in three years; local organisations estimate there were between 10,000 and 20,000 victims of sexual violence during the war.
Survivors who do decide to apply face a lengthy and agonizing process, during which time they must provide medical records, therapy notes and witness testimony. Nor is approval guaranteed: to date, 222 applicants have been rejected. Sadije, who was systematically raped by soldiers over three days in April 1999, is one of them. “They asked me more about my financial situation [than the assault]. They didn’t let me talk much,” she told a journalist. Instead, Sadije says she was made to feel as if she was trying to “cheat” the commission.
Moreover, Serbia has failed to recognise any war crimes committed by its troops over the decade between 1991 and 2001 despite mounting evidence of ethnic cleansing and rape as a tool of war. Despite the testimony of survivors before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague, only one conviction for sexual assault has been secured. For Serbia to acknowledge what was done to those in Kosovo, attest survivors, would be “incredible.”
The experiences of wartime sexual violence survivors across the world seem to be cut from the same horrific cloth: destruction, exploitation, a lifetime of marginalisation while perpetrators walk free. From Europe to Africa to Asia, the pattern is the same – as is the eternal fight for justice that more than often than not is an uphill battle rather than a straight road.
To fully comprehend the devastating consequences of pushing survivors of wartime sexual violence and their children to the margins of society, the plight of Vietnam’s Lai Dai Han is a case study of extremes. More than 300,000 South Korean soldiers were deployed to fight in the Vietnam War between 1964 and 1973. While there, they sexually assaulted and raped thousands of Vietnamese women and girls. Some victims were not yet teenagers, and an untold number of survivors later gave birth to half-Korean children as a result of their attacks. Their mixed-race children are today known as the Lai Dai Han, a community who, along with their mothers, have known only a lifetime of intolerance and discrimination.
The Lai Dai Han say their lives have been irreparably damaged by persistent stigma in a society that, for decades, has refused to recognise them or the sexual violence endured by their mothers. Many in the community, now young adults, are illiterate due to their being refused an education, and poor access to healthcare and social services is more or less guaranteed.
While the South Korean government has relentlessly demanded apologies and compensation from Japan for the sexual violence endured by Korean women during the second world war, the mothers of the Lai Dai Han have been met with a wall of silence from Seoul with regards to their rightful claims to justice. Those still alive today still hold out hope for an official apology from South Korea.
For all its faults, the twenty-first century has brought with it a new chapter for survivors of wartime sexual assault. The Lai Dai Han are finally receiving some recognition through the efforts of champions of the cause, including Nobel Peace Prize winner and fellow sexual violence survivor Nadia Murad.
Meanwhile, the EU can, and should, play a pivotal role in securing recognition for the survivors of sexual violence in the Balkans as these countries negotiate their eventual ascension to the bloc. Serbia, for example, continues to declare that joining the EU is its main political goal. Full accountability for wartime crimes, including the use of rape as a weapon of war, should be a precondition for that achievement.
Follow EU Today on Social media: