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Sevdije Ahmeti talks to the BBC
"There is a problem with husbands"
 real 28k

Monday, 17 April, 2000, 14:43 GMT 15:43 UK
Women scarred by Kosovo atrocities
Families fleeing Kosovo
Serbs forced many families to flee their homes
Details have begun to emerge of atrocities carried out against Kosovo Albanian women before and during the conflict between Nato and Yugoslav forces.

The reports detail how Serbian forces and paramilitaries used rape an instrument of war, leaving behind a legacy of shattered lives and families torn apart by shame.

Men are brought up as breadwinners and protectors of the family and it is hard for them to accept their wife has been raped

Sevdije Ahmeti, Centre for Protection of Women and Children
One case details how a 20-year-old who became pregnant after being raped by a Serb killed her baby by snapping its neck just hours after giving birth.

"She was an extremely traumatised woman," Sevdije Ahmeti, of the Centre for Protection of Women and Children, told the BBC.

She said the woman - now in a psychiatric detention cell - was a victim who needed protection.

'Instrument to terrorise'

Ms Ahmeti said the case highlighted how unprepared her centre and international organisations had been to deal with the increasing number of rape cases that are emerging.

A recent report by the US-based Human Rights Watch said the 96 cases of rape by Serbian forces that it documented were not rare or isolated acts committed by individuals.

"[They] were used deliberately as an instrument to terrorise the civilian population, extort money from families, and push people to flee their homes," it said.

The report said the rapes tended to take place in three situations: in women's homes, during flight or in temporary detention centres, such as abandoned homes or barns.

Ms Ahmeti said she had heard of one woman who had been raped in front of her husband and five children after Serb paramilitaries broke into their home.

She was raped by several men, killed and the family home set on fire, she said.

Social taboos

The true number of victims may never be known because strong social taboos mean Kosovan Albanian victims of rape are generally reluctant to speak about their experiences.

Ms Ahmeti said that in many cases the husbands of victims were unable to deal with what was seen as the shame brought upon the family.

"There is a problem with the husbands. Men are brought up as breadwinners and protectors of the family and it is hard for them to accept their wife has been raped," she told the BBC.

"They just, in a silent way, separate. The husbands take the children and go somewhere and the woman stays at home."

For women who have been identified as rape victims in the community, the situation can be worse. Many are abandoned by family and friends.

She said most single women who had been raped during the war had tried to have the pregnancy terminated, while others had abandoned their babies.

The UK's Observer newspaper, quoting figures from the World Health Organisation and the US-based Centre for Disease Control, has estimated that up to 20,000 Kosovan women were raped in the two years prior to Nato's forces entering the territory.

In an investigation into the fate awaiting the offspring of the conflict, the newspaper quoted one young Kosovo Albanian man saying that in "Kosovo, in our culture, death is better than rape".

"I could not accept my wife. She would be dirty, evil, the castle of the enemy," he said.

The newspaper said local humanitarian groups, including the Red Cross, had estimated that 100 rape babies were born in January alone.

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20 Mar 00 | Europe
Bosnian rape camp trial opens
06 Dec 99 | Europe
Kosovo catalogue of horrors
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