PRISTINA - A woman alleging she was raped by Serbian forces during the Kosovo War filed a criminal complaint Monday with the country's Special Prosecution's Office, asking that her attacker be prosecuted.
Shyhrete Tahiri-Sylejmani became only the second among an estimated 20,000 raped during the 1998-1999 war to publicly recount her experience.
"I am here with you to share with you the pain I have in my soul," she said in front of reporters and TV cameras in Kosovo's capital, Pristina. "I represent all mothers, brothers, sisters, daughters that suffer the same pain. I want to give them courage. It is never easy. Think of the kind of pain that shatters your heart and it can never be healed again. I am here to demand justice."
Feride Rushiti of the Kosovo Rehabilitation Center for Torture Victims, who stood beside Tahiri-Sylejmani, expressed dismay that justice still eludes the victims and that those who committed rape and other war crimes are still at large.
"These crimes remain unpunished. That is why we are here today to demand justice for the 20,000 women, men, girls and boys who have experienced this crime, horror, torture and mistreatment during the war," she said.
Public faces of survivors
In October 2018, Vasfije Krasniqi Goodman became Kosovo's first survivor of wartime rape to publicly accuse her alleged attackers and tell her story.
In April of this year, she recounted her harrowing experiences in testimony before the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, urging that justice be served.
"I remember everything," she said. "He [the attacker] held me at gunpoint, abused and raped me repeatedly. I was so shocked and exhausted that I lost consciousness. I would regain consciousness and cry with no control begging him to kill me. He said, 'No. I won't because you will suffer more this way.' In all honesty, I did suffer a lot."
Krasniqi Goodman offered her support for Tahiri-Sylejmani on Monday, saying she "could always count on her and her family's support.”
Since telling her story, Krasniqi Goodman has become an advocate for justice for survivors of sexual violence in war.
Shedding the stigma
Many survivors kept quiet for decades, fearing the shame and public humiliation that rape can bring to an extended family in a historically patriarchal society.
As Kosovo struggled to rebuild and secure international recognition in the wake of its 2008 declaration of independence, the issue of sexual violence remained largely on the back burner.
Last year, the government started to provide reparations for victims of sexual war crimes under a law that compensates veterans of the Kosovo War.
Claimants welcome the lifetime monthly compensation of $275 for the physical and psychological trauma — about 90% of the average salary for Kosovar women.
Even so, Tahiri-Sylejmani and Krasniqi Goodman insist the compensation is no substitute for justice.