Ambassador Hovenier’s Remarks at the Crime Victims’ Rights Week Ceremony, 24 October 2022
Good morning. Thank you, President Osmani, Acting Chief State Prosecutor Kelmendi and distinguished guests.
I am honored to join you to commemorate Kosovo’s 13th annual Crime Victim’s Rights Week.
October is also National Domestic Violence Awareness and Prevention Month in the United States.
So, while we are focusing on the rights of victims of crime, I would like to pay special attention to victims – or perhaps more appropriately, survivors – of domestic violence.
Providing assistance to victims of domestic violence is an integral part of our broader work and outreach towards victims of all sorts of crimes.
We devote this week not only to raise awareness about the principles of victims’ rights.
It is also a time to recognize those who protect victim’s rights, and acknowledge the efforts of dedicated professionals, like many of you, who support survivors of criminal acts.
I hope we can also use this week to reflect on our efforts to ensure that all victims have access to justice, as well as to the social services they need to go through the recovery process.
It is important to note that that as these services are designed and implemented, they should be centered around the victims’ needs.
Marginalized groups and communities often experience overlapping social and economic inequities, and individuals within these groups and communities may suffer multiple forms of abuse. As a result, individuals from marginalized communities may be more vulnerable to becoming victims of crimes and targeted for human trafficking.
I am pleased to acknowledge that Kosovo continues to demonstrate leadership in victims’ rights issues.
For example, the guarantee of victims’ rights is now codified in the new Criminal Procedure Code.
In addition, the Government of Kosovo will soon expand compensation to a larger category of victims.
These are concrete demonstrations of Kosovo’s substantial commitment to protecting and compensating survivors of criminal acts.
The practice of assigning prosecutors specifically trained to handle Trafficking in Persons, Domestic Violence, and Sex Crimes cases is another commendable and positive step that Kosovo has taken.
Having dedicated prosecutors for the unique challenges these cases present is a best practice, for many reasons.
Understanding the social and cultural issues that lead people to commit these crimes is key.
Additionally, it is important to develop expertise on the legal challenges posed in seeking justice for victims who have been trafficked, sexually assaulted, or injured by family members in their own homes.
With dedicated prosecutors, victims stand a better chance of receiving assistance from experienced professionals who know how to deal with the fear and intimidation survivors often feel.
Specialized prosecutors are also best placed to actively engage with law enforcement and legal institutions to apply their experience and expertise as part of the national strategy against domestic violence.
That is why it is so critical to dedicate the necessary resources to support these prosecutors as they seek justice for some of the most heinous and unspeakable crimes.
I want to commend the Victim Advocates throughout Kosovo, who – despite their significantly reduced resources – have gone above and beyond the call of duty to passionately represent the most vulnerable among victims of crime.
We urge Kosovo continue to develop closer working relationships and collaboration between prosecutors and victim advocates, to achieve our common end goal of better serving victims of these horrible crimes.
Victim Compensation is another area of significant progress. Kosovo continues to be a leader in the region on this topic.
Our team at the U.S. Embassy has closely worked with the Ministry of Justice and the Victim Compensation Committee to ensure victims have access to state compensation.
We are grateful for the work prosecutors, judges, police, victim advocates, and victim’s service providers do on behalf of the most vulnerable among your citizens.
From the initial contact with victims, to the support you provide throughout the criminal justice process, and in the end hopefully achieving just results in the courts, all this work is integral to providing support for survivors of domestic violence and crime.
But there is much more that the criminal justice system can do for victims.
This year’s motto for Crime Victim’s Rights Week, “Rethinking the Institutional Chain” is an important reminder for all institutions present here today to identify weaknesses in the chain of support, and work together to overcome them.
I hope that next year we will be able to return to this same event and recognize successes and concrete examples of how all of us worked together to advance the achievement of justice for all.
Recently, we’ve seen several cases that have underscored the imperative for criminals to be held accountable for sexual assault, and trafficking.
These cases are a stark warning sign of the need for close collaboration across government agencies to ensure that violent offenders and criminals do not go free to repeat their crimes against some of society’s most defenseless and marginalized members.
When institutions publicly shift blame to other government entities, or when law enforcement or the media release the names and photos of crime victims, these actions sensationalize tragedies and distract from our focus on fixing the root problems.
We look to Judicial and law enforcement institutions to communicate, collaborate and work together for the sake of these victims and their families – indeed, for the sake of society as a whole.
I would particularly encourage you to prioritize domestic violence and gender-based violence prosecutions and adjudications.
We can start by prioritizing victim’s issues and applying risk assessment tools, enabling the entire chain of people involved in prosecution and protection of victims to better serve the needs of victims and, hopefully, avoid fatalities.
Judges and prosecutors are vested with the power to prosecute and adjudicate cases based on the highest national and international legal standards, and must follow the law regardless their own personal, cultural, or social beliefs.
Addressing domestic violence and providing assistance to survivors is a priority for President Biden, who has longstanding commitment to these issues.
He sponsored a landmark act, the Violence Against Women Act, more than 25 years ago, and his commitments endure to this day.
In his remarks in March of this year celebrating the reauthorization of this Act, he said
- “As long as there are women in this country and around the world who live in fear of violence, there’s more we have to do to fulfill this sacred commitment.
- No one — no one, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, should experience abuse. Period.
- And if they do, they should have the services and support they need to get through it. And we’re not going to rest.”
I want to close by thanking you all for your continued work to combat and prevent these crimes.
I urge you all to continue to work together and develop collaborative processes to serve survivors and their families.
Making society a safe place for all citizens is not the job of a single agency, or even a single country.
We all must continue to work together to improve and develop complementary victim assistance programs including educational, vocational, housing, employment, and childcare needs.
And we need to work together to make psychological counselling and other legal aid programs available that will empower the survivors of crimes to heal and restore their lives.
Thank you for your attention.