A speech by The Countess of Wessex in Kosovo

Published 17 October 2019

My commitment to them is that I shall also raise my own voice and continue to seek ways of ending the stigma they live with, push for opportunities for justice and encourage people in positions of influence to engage in offering better support.

The Countess of Wessex

Good morning. I am honoured to be here today to open this important conference on transgenerational trauma and I look forward to hearing from the researchers from DIGNITY Institute on their preliminary findings.

Earlier today I had the opportunity of meeting and talking with some of the survivors of conflict-related sexual violence who participated in this research.

Their stories are harrowing and their pain is still so evident, but it is their courage and determination not to be defined by their dreadful experiences that is so very impressive. I cannot imagine how difficult it has been for them and their families to rebuild their lives following such traumas; traumas which they carry with them each and every day. Their message to me was that in spite of the courage they have had to find within themselves to carry on, they desperately need more help, more support and acceptance, they need justice, they need us.

We must recognise and understand that the pain and consequences of conflict-related sexual violence do not diminish with time. Years mean nothing and in fact if the issues and needs of survivors are not addressed adequately and soon enough, in many cases over time they increase.

Conflict leaves many wounds, but the biggest wound of all I believe is the unjust stigma that so many survivors are confronted with, not only here in Kosovo, but around the world. This additional burden heaped on top of devastating assaults, is almost too awful to contemplate. It is time to allow those who have been so brutally attacked through no fault of their own, as well as the many innocent children born from rape, who are so cruelly treated by society's attitudes to come out from the shadows, so that their voices can be heard and importantly their children accepted. We must shift the blame from the victim to the perpetrator.

If the stigma goes unchallenged we are merely perpetuating the offence, over and over again. So I say there is no place for stigma in our world today...no one should have to feel ashamed ever again.

Kosovo is a bright young country with its youth looking towards the future. In order for this wonderful country to navigate the unhealed wounds of the past and to build a better society we must all acknowledge the crimes committed upon thousands of innocent people. We must support every survivor. If we are truly taking a survivor-centred approach, we must ensure we are listening and responding to survivors needs.

I know that many of you here are doing precisely that. Each day you are working to rebuild shattered lives and I congratulate you for all you are doing in helping those you are supporting to look forward to a better future.

But what we also know is that for every survivor who has come forward there are many more who are living with their stories in silence, too scared of the stigma to come forward for help. Therefore it is our duty to continue to do all we can to break down barriers, encourage society to embrace those who innocently fell victim to others brutality and create an understanding environment which gives people the confidence that they will not be judged if they come forward and seek support.

Already much good work has been done here and I commend Vasfije (Vasfeeyé) Goodman for bravely speaking out and giving voice to those many thousands who feel they cannot. I also commend Shyrete (Shoorété) Tahiri for publicly presenting her case to the Prosecutor only 3 days ago. These courageous steps will create a path for others to follow.

In November we will be holding an international conference in London entitled "Time for Justice: Putting Survivors First" and once again we will be reminded of the strength of survivors, the continued sacrifices and risks they take in speaking out to tell their stories.

It is a commitment of the greatest kind that there are women out there who are willing to repeatedly and publicly recount their horrific experiences time and time again, in order that they can seek the justice that both they and the many other women, men, boys and girls out there deserve. But in order that they should not have to continue to make this selfless sacrifice we have to do more to ensure that the support is there when they need it and that society embraces survivors instead of shunning them.

My commitment to them is that I shall also raise my own voice and continue to seek ways of ending the stigma they live with, push for opportunities for justice and encourage people in positions of influence to engage in offering better support.

The time for justice is now and I very much hope that Kosovo will join our global call in November and continue to fight for an improved future for all the survivors and their families here.