Kosovo Moves to Toughen Penalties for Rape, Domestic Violence

Kosovo’s government backed legal changes to impose stricter sentences for rape, sexual assault and domestic violence, as well as enabling the publication of convicted sexual abusers’ identities.

Kosovo’s government on Wednesday approved legislation to change the criminal code to perpetrators the offences of rape, sexual assault and domestic violence more harshly after claims that judges were imposing lenient sentences.

“For years we have been hearing about the murder of women and in recent months we have been shocked by the rape of our girls and women, we are stunned by the case of the rape of an 11-year-old girl by five adults, and while society reacts with protests, the judicial system is silent,” Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti told a government meeting on Wednesday.

The changes will now have to be approved by a majority of lawmakers in the Kosovo Assembly.

Kurti said that “we cannot do the duty of the judge or the prosecutor, but we can design policies so that the prosecutor and the judge react and act more quickly”.

Justice Minister Albulena Haxhiu explained that the changes to the criminal code envisage the publication of a list of convicted sexual abusers and perpetrators of domestic violence.

Courts will publish verdicts in the cases of people “found guilty of the criminal offences of rape, sexual assault and domestic violence”, Haxhiu said.

She added that the Kosovo Judicial Council will hold a public register which will have “the name and surname of the people found guilty of these criminal offences”.

Women rights’ activists in Kosovo have repeatedly requested a public database of names of people found guilty of sexual violence.

The legal changes will also ban anyone convicted of rape, sexual assault or domestic violence from being a candidate for a public position or of being a strategic investor for three to ten years, and from having a driving licence from one to five years, said Haxhiu.

Anyone convicted of rape will be banned from employment in the public sector, she added.

The government also approved a draft law on changes to the criminal procedure code in order to increase the efficiency of the justice system when dealing with cases of rape, sexual assault and domestic violence.

“This provides for the expediting of proceedings to ensure an efficient investigation and trial,” Haxhiu said.

Investigations must be completed within a year; trials with one judge must be completed within 60 days and trial with a judging panel within 90 days.

Haxhiu also said that the changes will ban virginity tests

Sexual harassment was only recognised as a crime in Kosovo law in 2019. Forty-one cases were reported to police that year. In 2021, there were 54 cases and 38 in the first six months of this year, police told BIRN in September.

Many more incidents never make it as far as the police, however. Social stigma, fear of revenge and a law level of trust in public institutions, which frequently engage in victim-blaming, deters many women from reporting sexual harassment, say NGOs working on women’s rights.

When such cases do reach court, the charge brought is rarely ‘sexual harassment,’ but ‘harassment’.

In an analysis in May this year, BIRN found that Kosovo judges mostly make lenient decisions in sexual violence cases.

The analysis showed that from 2015 to 2020, prosecutors filed more than 521 indictments for sexual violence. But only 140 verdicts resulted in imprisonment, while 189 cases failed because they passed the statute of limitations and 79 ended with fines and suspended sentences.

12/10/2022 - 16:56

12 October 2022 - 16:56

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