Ambassador Kosnett’s Remarks for the 11th Annual Crime Victims’ Rights Week, October 15, 2020
It is my honor to commemorate Kosovo’s 11th Annual Crime Victims’ Rights Week. The fact that I am recording these remarks instead of addressing you in person is a stark reminder that we are very much still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. I want to begin by commending the Chief State Prosecutor and his entire office on embracing a virtual format for this important event. Chief State Prosecutor Lumezi’s decision to put the health and safety of his staff and all the participants first should be an example for all Kosovo institutions.
This week we pay tribute to those who have dedicated their lives and careers to assisting victims—from the police officers who investigate the scene to the victim advocates, prosecutors, and social workers who provide support through traumatic events. Each of you is a hero to those you serve, and I join the Chief State Prosecutor Aleksandër Lumezi, Minister of Justice Selim Selimi, and Constitutional Court President Arta Rama in saluting you all.
This year, Kosovo demonstrated once again its leadership in victims’ rights issues. Just last month, Kosovo’s Assembly adopted the Istanbul Convention, helping to protect victims of domestic violence and other gender-based crimes. I was also pleased to see the Minister of Justice working to amend the Crime Victim Compensation law to address the financial needs of crime victims. Finally, the efforts of the Chief State Prosecutor to appoint prosecutors to Trafficking in Persons cases and ensure consistency in addressing those cases.
Let me underscore that adherence to the rule of law demands such consistency, and that is especially true when addressing victims’ rights and needs. That is why I am often disappointed when I hear about the disparity in treatment in Kosovo’s criminal justice system. Some perpetrators are detained, while others are let free. Some victims receive assistance, while others are left to fend for themselves. Some defendants are charged with serious offenses, yet others who committed the same acts face lesser charges—some face severe sentences, while others pay an insignificant fine.
Now, I understand that not all crimes and circumstances are the same, but the lack of predictability and consistency in these cases undermines the process and your successes. Ultimately, it undermines citizens’ confidence in the government. So, I call on each one of you to keep working to ensure that each victim, each circumstance, each prosecution, and each sentence is treated with the same dignity and importance. Ensure that justice is applied evenly to all.
I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the alarming rise in domestic and sexual violence cases in Kosovo and across the globe since the beginning of the pandemic. Among many other aspects, COVID-19 has the potential to significantly undermine the rule of law by limiting the availability and capacity of law enforcement and judicial authorities to respond to these important cases. Moreover, the pandemic can hinder the processing of criminal reports and risks diminishing services needed by survivors, including in shelters, hospitals, police stations, and courts.
But—as you can see from this virtual event—technology can be a useful tool for combating victim-based crimes and overcoming these challenges, both during and after the pandemic. The Victim Advocate Office has already risen to this challenge, creating an electronic management system to better track their cases and installing additional domestic violence hotlines to better serve victims.
Even more can be done: creating and utilizing an application to allow for online reporting and tracking; allowing for more virtual court hearings so victims can appear in court without having to leave their home; and using virtual training to increase the capacity of those who are supporting the victim community. These are only a few ideas. I’m sure you have many others and I encourage you to put them into practice.
Ultimately, the greatness of a nation is judged by how it treats its most vulnerable. So to all the survivors who have come forward, to all those who have rendered care, and to all those who have fought for justice, my respect – you are helping Kosovo achieve that greatness.
Allow me to leave you with a quotation from the American judicial rights activist Bryan Stevenson:
“I’ve come to believe that the true measure of our commitment to justice, the character of our society, our commitment to the rule of law, fairness, and equality cannot be measured by how we treat the rich, the powerful, the privileged, and the respected among us.
“The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned. We are all implicated when we allow other people to be mistreated.