The UN and EU missions that used to be responsible for prosecuting wartime crimes in Kosovo failed to secure any sustainable convictions for sexual violence.
Back in 2013, the Basic Court in Mitrovica sentenced Jovica Dejanovic, a former Serb policeman, to 12 years in prison, and Djordje Bojkovic to ten years for raping a teenage girl in April 1999.
But the Supreme Court reversed the first-instance verdict and released both Dejanovic and Bojkovic in 2014.
The victim in the case was Vasfije Krasniqi Goodman, who has since become one of the few survivors of wartime sexual violence in Kosovo to defy the social stigmatisation that is widespread in society and speak about her ordeal publicly.
Krasniqi Goodman told BIRN that she was more optimistic that the Vukotic case would result in a conviction.
“One of the failures [of the UN and EU missions] was my own case. Nevertheless, I think that this current case gives hope and an incentive to restore a sense of justice,” she said.
“Based on what I have been told, there are more cases on the way and I encourage and support other victims to step forward and demand justice,” she added.
Outside Kosovo, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague tried several cases in which the charges included rape alongside other wartime crimes.
Allegations of responsibility for sexual violence formed part of the ICTY indictments of six senior officials of Slobodan Milosevic’s regime – Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Nikola Sainovic, Serbian Deputy Interior Minister Vlastimir Djordjevic, the Serbian Interior Ministry’s chief in Kosovo, Sreten Lukic, Yugoslav Third Army commander Nebojsa Pavkovic, the chief of the Yugoslav Army’s General Staff, Dragoljub Ojdanic, and the commander of the Yugoslav Army’s Pristina Corps, Vladimir Lazarevic.
Pavkovic was convicted, with the ICTY finding that, given his rank and command authority, could have been able to prevent incidents of sexual violence in the village of Beleg in the Decan/Decani municipality and Qirez/Cirez in the Drenas/Glogovac municipality. However, the Hague court cleared him of having responsibility for not preventing three other incidents in Pristina.
Lazarevic, Sainovic and Lukic were found guilty on appeal of bearing responsibility for incidents of sexual violence by troops in Beleg and Qirez/Cirez as part of a joint criminal enterprise in which they were involved.
Ojdanic and Lazarevic were both acquitted of responsibility for incidents of sexual violence in Kosovo, however.
Allegations of sexual violence were also part of the indictment in the case against former Kosovo Liberation Army commanders Ramush Haradinaj, Idriz Balaj and Lahi Ibrahimaj at the ICTY.
Balaj was accused of raping a Roma woman, but although the court found that the rape did happen, the victim could not identify Balaj as her attacker and he was acquitted of that count in the indictment.
Allegations have also be made at a showpiece trial in Serbia of former Yugoslav troops accused of war crimes including 100 killings in the villages of Qyshk/Cuska, Pavlan/Pavljan, Zahaq/Zahac and Lubeniq/Ljubenic near the town of Peja/Pec in April and May 1999.
At the trial in Belgrade, several members of the 177th Brigade of the Yugoslav Army, known as the Jackals, were convicted under a first-instance verdict in Belgrade in 2014 and sentenced to a total of 106 years in jail.
During the trial, Shehrije Balaj, a Roma woman from Kosovo, and two ethnic Albanian women testified that they were raped. However, the Serbian Appeals Court then dismissed the verdict and ordered a retrial.
‘Victims should shout about these crimes’