Ambassador Kosnett’s Remarks at the KRCT 20th Anniversary Conference

Ambassador Kosnett’s Remarks at the KRCT 20th Anniversary Conference

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.  It is a privilege for me and my wife Alison to be here in distinguished company, to honor the work of the Kosovo Rehabilitation Centre for Torture Victims.  Dr. Mukwege, thank you for joining us in Pristina to share your wisdom.

And allow me to offer my congratulations to Feride Rushiti – a past recipient of the U.S. Government’s “International Woman of Courage” award – and her colleagues who have worked mightily for 20 years to ensure that the struggles and sacrifices of the survivors are not forgotten.

Most of all, my deepest respect to the survivors – those among us this evening, and everywhere.

I know there are times when the survivors and their supporters must feel overwhelmed.  But looking at the dedicated men and women here this evening, I am reminded of the words of the American writer and scientist Margaret Mead – “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed. It is the only thing that ever has.” 

While we acknowledge our gratitude for the hard work of the KCRT, our focus must remain on the needs of the survivors of wartime sexual violence themselves – the forgotten veterans of Kosovo’s struggle for freedom.

The women and men who survived wartime rape by enemies faced further pain from neighbors, friends, and family members.  We all know the stories of survivors being physically punished for having “dishonored” their families, of being cast out of their homes, denied medical care and the means to earn a living.

Thus, very few survivors of wartime sexual violence in Kosovo have come forward to identify themselves publicly.  And when survivors do come forward – at least to the extent of applying for pension and medical benefits – too often they report feeling abused once again, by a slow and painful process that treats applicants like suspects.

We can applaud those survivors who have come forward, whose courage and commitment to support other survivors helps to light the path.  But we should also respect those survivors who do not speak publicly.  Their stories are just as important.

We know that many survivors are reluctant to tell their stories because of the social stigma that they face in their own families and communities.  It is our responsibility as members of a global society to confront this stigma and ensure that survivors are not silenced, but are treated with respect and dignity.  Whether as citizens of Kosovo or of other countries, we have a responsibility to ensure that survivors are protected and cared for as individuals.

And as members of a global society, we are called on to move beyond words to take action. It is going to require action by this country’s leaders, by civil society, and by foreign friends working in concert. I say that with optimism.  This is a time of hope for Kosovo, as citizens watch the victors of last month’s election work to form a government. The leaders who will form the next government have pledged change in many areas.  I call on them now to offer a radical change in approach to the problems of survivors of wartime sexual violence.

First, I encourage the leaders of the new government to meet early on with survivors to highlight the importance of treating them with respect and to hear their stories firsthand.   This is the sort of leadership and compassion the citizens of any country should expect from their leaders.

Second, I call on the new government to treat survivors – from all communities – with the same level of attention as other veterans of the fighting.  That will mean radically reforming the work of the Commission in charge of reviewing survivors’ pension applications. This includes providing sufficient staffing and an adequate budget to make the process an efficient and dignified as possible, so that survivors no longer feel reluctant to seek benefits.

Finally, I will also challenge the international community – starting with myself – to do more.  Governments, organizations like KCRT, the diaspora community,  international foundations, and the business sector can all play a role in providing expertise and resources to address shortfalls in medical, mental health, and practical assistance to survivors.  Let’s find ways to step forward in partnership before another 20 years slips away.

I offer these thoughts not as criticism, but in a spirit of confidence and encouragement.  Our goal should be to learn from past missteps, not to look for someone to blame.  Instead of passing off responsibility, let’s find ways to effectively partner.  For in the words of Mother Teresa: “None of us, including me, ever do great things.  But we can all do small things, with great love, and together we can do something wonderful.”