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Kosovo: Authorities are failing domestic violence victims

Jun 08, 2023Jun 08, 2023

Kosovo authorities are failing victims of domestic violence, Amnesty International said today in a new report, despite widespread protests and calls for action after a significant number of femicides in recent years.

The report, ‘From paper to practice: Kosovo must keep its commitments to domestic violence survivors’, details how survivors of domestic violence, most of whom are women and girls, face numerous barriers to obtaining protection and accessing justice and support. Kosovo authorities should take further steps to combat domestic violence and ensure survivors rights are protected and their priority concerns addressed. In doing so, it is essential that Kosovo authorities involve survivors in all decision-making that affects them.

Survivors of domestic violence in Kosovo face obstacles in every direction as they try to leave abusive situations. The authorities’ response is too narrowly focused on criminal prosecutions. Indeed, almost all survivors are required to report violence to the police in order to access shelters. At the same time, not enough is being done to support survivors to live independent lives away from abuse. Survivors from marginalised groups are also being forgotten.

In recent years the Kosovo authorities have taken considerable steps to strengthen legislation and improve policies to address survivors’ needs. Most recently, in March 2023, the Assembly of the Republic of Kosovo approved at first reading a new draft law on the prevention of and protection from domestic violence, violence against women and gender-based violence. That is largely harmonised with Istanbul Convention and other international human rights conventions and includes comprehensive policies against gender-based violence.

Amnesty International, however, found numerous gaps in the state support available for survivors of domestic violence and a lack of action to involve them in decision-making, undermining their rights.

These gaps include barriers to compensation and other legal entitlements such as alimony, and inadequate support services for survivors leaving shelters. Survivors also described harmful prejudice from police officers, overworked social workers, unhelpful or absent victim advocates and a lack of information about their rights or available remedies and assistance. Survivors from ethnic minority communities such as Serb, Roma, Ashkali and Kosovo-Egyptian communities, and LGBTI survivors face additional barriers due to intersecting forms of discrimination that they face.

Barriers to accessing support.

Women in Kosovo face significant socio-economic barriers that prevent them from leaving abusive situations and living free of fear and violence in the long run. In 2017, only 17% of women in Kosovo were formally employed compared to 50% of men, and in 2021, only 18% of property was owned by women compared to 79% by men. Additionally, women are often excluded from family inheritance and the property division between spouses in divorce proceedings also tends to disadvantage women.

If survivors try to leave abusive situations, at best they receive initial protection and short-term support, but are then left alone to try and rebuild their lives, with insufficient help in accessing housing, professional qualifications or employment.

“The Kosovo authorities have committed to putting survivors at the centre of their response to domestic violence. Now they need to turn this commitment into action. This means providing sufficient resources, but also listening to survivors and working with them to develop more comprehensive and rights respecting responses,” said Lauren Aarons.

What institutions could do is inform women, before anything happens, that if something happens to you, you have an open door and support from the state. You don’t need to worry about your children, you don’t need to worry about where to go… even if your family does not support you, even if you cannot return to your father’s house, institutions will support you.

State-sponsored information campaigns focus almost exclusively on encouraging survivors to report cases to the police. Yet when they approach the police, they often experience disrespectful treatment. Survivors told Amnesty International that some police officers questioned why they had gone to the police at all, while others tried to make them feel guilty for reporting the abuser.

An Amnesty International review of a representative sample of criminal court decisions on domestic violence revealed that, despite having the power do to so, under law, courts never ordered perpetrators to pay compensation to victims in criminal proceedings. The review also showed that perpetrators of domestic violence received sentences incommensurate with the gravity of the offence.

Kosovo has been rocked by a series of femicides in recent years. Protests were held in response to these killings, asking for justice and reparations, including sentences that are adequate to the gravity of the offence.

On 14 March 2021, Sebahate Morina was killed by her husband. The Constitutional Court later ruled that state authorities had failed to protect Morina, violating her right to life. On 4 August 2023, the men responsible for the brutal murder of 18-year-old Marigona Osmani in August 2021 were sentenced: Dardan Krivaqa was given a life sentence for aggravated murder, Arbër Sejdiu was given 15 years of imprisonment for aiding to commit the criminal offence.

“People in Kosovo are coming onto the streets and demanding that action is taken to prevent more women from being killed. Kosovo authorities have a golden opportunity to make a difference: listening to survivors and protestors, who have the solutions; they should match their legal commitments with the concrete action needed to end violence against women,” said Aarons.

*Name changed to protect identity

‘From paper to practice: Kosovo must keep its commitments to domestic violence survivors’

Barriers to accessing support.