President Jahjaga’s speech at the screening of the “I think of You” documentary in Washington

President of the Republic of Kosovo, Mrs. Atifete Jahjaga, held an address at the screening of the “I think of You” documentary by artist Alketa Xhafa-Mripa and Producer Anna di Lellio at the NYU University in Washington D. C. This event was organised by the Embassy of Kosovo in United States of America, Women’s Foreign Policy Group and the NYU in Washington D.C.

During this address, Madam President said:
 
Dear students,
Ladies and gentlemen,
 
It is a real pleasure to address you at this important event which unfolds a difficult part of the recent history of Kosovo. It was only 17 years ago that Kosovo came out of a terrible war which counted a million refugees, thousand lost lives, thousands still missing, terrible material destruction and thousands victims of unspeakable sexual violence and abuse.
 
While we moved on to rebuild our future upon the ashes of destruction and immense human suffering, struggling with the many challenges of building a peaceful, stable and secure country, we made all attempts as a society to honor and respect the sacrifice of every citizen who had given everything for freedom and liberty.
 
We honored all the women and men who have extended their helping hand in our most trying times and the staunch support of all friendly countries who had put a stop to the genocide in Kosovo and offered us the chance for a life in peace and in freedom.
 
We did this by building a state based upon civic principles, guaranteeing and respecting the rights of all citizens regardless of their ethnic background, religious belief or gender, for we knew far too well how sacred the protection of human rights is, for we as a society for many decades had suffered terribly from the lack of it.
 
Yet in all these years of tireless work to rebuild our society, it was difficult for us to address a very harsh consequence that the war had left behind, which had touched the dignity of our daughters, sisters and mothers by turning their bodies into a battle field.
 
Sexual violence was used as a tool of war in Kosovo against thousands of women and men with the purpose to incite fear and oppression upon innocent citizens, it was used to incite ethnic cleansing, to emasculate the men, to strip the whole society from its human values, and to plant the seeds of pain and suffering forever in the lives of the victims, their families and upon all of us.
 
It was in the first days of my mandate as the President of Kosovo that I went to meet a group of women, survivors of sexual violence during the war. They accorded me warmly and opened up their hearts.
 
The horrors that were committed upon their bodies were speaking loudly of the inhumane crime, which had to call upon all of us to rise and seek justice for the victims, to seek punishment for the perpetrators, and put a stop to this tool of war. Yet their stories were barely heard outside the walls of the organizations they were accepting treatments and in most of the cases they had never been shared with anyone.
 
The terrible crime of sexual abuse had kept the victims imprisoned in the horrors they had experienced, silenced, stigmatized and shamed by the whole society.
 
We did not realize that by choosing silence we as individuals, as institutions and as a society had become part of the injustice committed upon them.
 
When I went back to my office that day heartbroken and horrified of what I had been witness of, I could no longer accept the silence which had surrounded this issue for such a long time. I decided it was time to lead our society towards finding the right path to address this part of our common history, and change the social and institutional discourse we had used for all these years.
 
Two years ago I established with a special decree, the National Council for the Survivors of Sexual Violence during the War, an unprecedented mechanism which brought all sectors of the society together namely the country’s institutions, civil society organizations, and international organizations under the common aim to undertake all necessary steps to offer to the survivors of wartime sexual violence legal recognition, psycho-social support, access to justice, access to economic resources and foremost recognition by the society and the whole world for the crime committed upon them.
 
I will proudly remember the first day of the National Council on the 7th of March 2014, when in one voice for the first time we as institutions and as a society as a whole expressed our staunch commitment to break the taboo which had surrounded this issue for such a long time, to fight the stigma still surrounding the survivors and to work tirelessly to treat them as we had done with all other categories of war, with respect and dignity honoring their sacrifice.
 
In the 12th of June last year on the Liberation day the whole country woke up to a changed reality. The stadium of Pristina found itself covered by thousands of dresses, carrying horrible stories of the inhumane crime of sexual abuse committed to innocent people, a crime which could no longer remain silent.
 
The artistic installation “Thinking of You” by the artist Alketa Xhafa Mripa and the producer Anna di Lellio brought to us the strong voice of all the victims, in an unprecedented solidarity from women and men from all corners of the country and beyond, who responded to the call to donate a skirt for this artistic installation.
 
With the support of the National Council, the women’s organization and activists, government institutions, ordinary people and many partners, we saw this artistic quest for justice by Alketa and Anna become a movement reaching beyond the borders of our country, speaking openly of the sexual violence as a tool of war and seeking justice for all its survivors in Kosovo and in the whole world.
 
That day will always remain fresh in my memory for through the universal language of art we as a society stood together, we heard each other’s stories of a terrible crime and expressed our determination to offer peace to all the survivors.
 
As I walked through the stadium, through the thousands of dresses I came across two skirt which carried two heartbreaking messages, in one of them it was written: “I have a bitter experience” while in the other it said: “this skirt has a closed history from the spring of 1998”.
 
Today those skirts are hanged in the walls of the Office of the President of Kosovo to remind us of the sacrifice of thousands of women and men, and foremost remind us of our obligation to treat them with dignity.
 
I say today to all the survivors, it is not your fault and we will continue to fight for your justice. I thank Alketa and Anna for this powerful artistic installation which makes us all proud.
 
Dear students,
Ladies and gentlemen,

In these years I have heard stories of women whose dreams of becoming mothers never came true when they lost their unborn child due to inhumane act of violence committed upon them.
 
I heard stories of mothers who witnessed their daughters being gang raped beaten, tortured in front of them, stories of women sexually abused in unspeakable ways in front of their husbands, fathers, in front of the whole village. Stories of young children who have not survived the inhumane acts. Stories of women who lost their families to the shame of this crime, women and young girls left behind with the stain of shame engraved deep in their bodies.
 
In all of these stories I also witnessed the courage of young girls and women who despite everything have found the strength to rebuild their lives, to take care of their children and families, who fight every day with the horrors they have lived and never give up. Women who encourage each other to survive and tell to each other that they are the heroines of our society.
 
I have also heard the stories of powerful women who through their fearless determination have offered support to the survivors since the end of the war and raised their voices even when no one was willing to hear them.
 
I tell them to the survivors that you indeed are our heroines and express our deepest gratitude on behalf of our society to all the women and men who fought tirelessly for their rights.
 
I hope that by watching the documentary of making the powerful art installation ‘thinking of you’ you will understand the large scale of this despicable war crime which took place in Kosovo and carry with you the strength and the courage of the survivors.
 
We can put a stop to this tool of war which is everyday destroying lives in different corners of the world, destroying the fabrics of our humanity, but we need to act together and fight the culture of impunity.
 
It did take us a long time as a society to find the right path. Just last week that I received the first applications from three women to apply for the legal status of the survivor of sexual violence during the war, 17 years after the war ended.
 
Indeed still 17 years after the war there is not a single person sentenced for the acts of sexual violence committed in Kosovo.
 
Yet today we are no longer silent, today we speak on one voice for the survivors. Today we ask for justice.
 
I would like to thank the organizers of this important event, Kosovo’s Embassy in Washington D.C. for the American people and the American government have stood by us since our most trying times. I am honored and pleased to see that we have your support also in this quest for peace and justice.
 
We cannot change the past but we can make sure to work together and guarantee a better future for everyone. Believe in your power to bring change.
 
Thank you!