Sexual violence cases prompt several protests, women’s rights activists fined, major labour rights strike
The rape of an 11-year-old girl prompted thousands of citizens and activists to protest in Prishtina. Several actions and protests were staged over cases of rape of underage girls and cases of domestic violence.
- People protested in Prishtina over the rape of an 11-year-old girl by five men. The suspects, three of them minors, were arrested and remained in custody for one month. Another protest march was staged in front of the buildings of the law enforcement and justice institutions, with thousands of people demanding better protection and security for girls and women, as well as priority treatment of sexual violence cases and meritorious punishments for rapists. In another case of an underaged girl being a victim of sexual violence, six male suspects have been arrested, while the General Director of the Kosovo Police resigned. Protests continued with hundreds of people and activists gathering again in front of the Government’s building and the Kosovo Prosecutorial Council on 5th September 2022. They demanded the resignation of the Chief Prosecutor of the Basic Prosecution in Prishtina, legalisation of the use of pepper spray as a preventive measure for girls and women, the dismissal of the police officers handling the case, the creation of a specialised unit for sexual violence within the Kosovo Police, as well as the introduction of sex education in schools. The protest continued in front of the building of the Judicial Council of Kosovo, with some activists interrupting the conference of the Council with loudspeakers, demanding responsibility from justice institutions. Seven activists involved in the protests on 31st August 2022 and 5th September 2022 have been fined for “disturbing public order”. The Collective for Feminist Thought and Action said that this represents an attempt to silence and repress the activists, but stated that they would continue protesting in public spaces until justice is delivered.
- The Collective for Feminist Thought and Action held an action in front of the Kosovo Prosecutorial Council demanding the dismissal of the Prosecutor, Stojanka Kasalović, for neglecting a case of domestic violence, which later resulted in the murder of a woman by her husband. The victim had reported domestic violence to the police several days before being murdered, however, her husband was released after being interviewed. Nevertheless, the Kosovo Prosecutorial Council merely released a written public warning to Prosecutor Kasalović.
- Family members, friends and civil society representatives protested in front of the Basic Court in Mitrovica, demanding justice for Betina Ymeri, who committed suicide after allegedly being threatened by her fiancé. Under the slogans “Don't let it happen again”, “Mother did not fail, the state failed”, and "Suicide does not come from the sky", the protesters demanded meritorious punishment for the suspect.
Strikes staged by Kosovo teachers entered its third week, postponing the start of the 2022/23 school year. Increased monthly payments were demanded by pensioners, as well as security guards and technical workers, whereas employees of the Palace of Justice protested poor conditions in the workplace.
- On 25th August 2022, the Union of Independent Trade Unions of Kosovo announced a general strike by public sector employees, demanding an additional payment of 100 EUR per month for all public sector workers until the Law on Salaries enters into force. Civil servants went on strike in several local and national institutions, with over 20,000 teachers joining the strike, postponing the 1st September 2022 start of the school year. In response, the Government announced that public sector workers who are striking will not be compensated and their salaries will be reduced for the time they are not at work. This triggered healthcare workers in Prishtina to protest, while the Union of Education, Science and Culture of Kosovo filed a lawsuit against the Minister of Finance. Nevertheless, despite delays, the Ministry executed full salaries for public sector workers. In addition, the executive approved a new support package for the public to deal with inflation, which provides public sector employees with an additional payment of 50 EUR per month until the end of 2022. However, the strike continued, as no agreement was reached either after the meeting between unions and the Prime Minister on 13th September 2022 or after the meeting between the Director of the European Trade Union Committee for Education and the Prime Minister on 21st September. Meanwhile, dozens of pupils and parents also protested in Peja demanding the restart of the teaching process in schools. Under the slogans “Government-unions, we want a solution, we want to start the learning process" and "Take us back to school”, the protesters called on the Government and unions to find a common language immediately. A similar call has been made by several NGOs as well. Nevertheless, the Union of Independent Trade Unions of Kosovo insists that the strike will continue until their demands are met, while recently expressing their readiness to waive the demand for an additional payment of 100 EUR per month if salaries are increased by 10.5% until the Law on Salaries enters into force.
- Dozens of pensioners protested in front of the Assembly of Kosovo with the motto "Dignity for pensioners", seeking an amendment of the Law on Pension Schemes that requires them to appear at social centre offices every six months to prove that they are alive. They also demanded an additional payment of 100 EUR per month until the increase in pensions comes into effect.
- Security guards and technical workers at public healthcare institutions protestedafter not receiving promised additional payments. The Government has extended additional payments per month for public health workers and support staff until the end of the year. However, security guards and technical workers have not been included, despite the Union’s claims that they possess an official letter from the Ministry of Health which confirms that the security guards and technical workers are recognised as support staff. More than 1,000 lawsuits have been filed by these workers in the Basic Court of Prishtina regarding the dispute.
Serbian parallel structures in the north of Kosovo blocked highways leading to border crossing points with Serbia after the Government of Kosovo announced reciprocity measures with Serbia over vehicle licence plates and entry/exit documents.
- Serbian parallel structures in the north of Kosovo barricaded highways with trucks filled with gravel leading to border crossings points between Kosovo and Serbia, protesting the Kosovo Government's decision to commence implementation of reciprocity measures with Serbia over vehicle licence plates and entry/exit documents from 1st August 2022. Air raid sirens were heard and gun shots fired against the Kosovo Police were recorded, while a couple of local Albanians were reported to have been beaten as well. The Government of Kosovo blamed Serbia, in particular Petar Petković, Director of the so-called Office for Kosovo in the Government of Serbia, as the main promoter of riots, after his coordination meeting with the Kosovo Serbs' main political party representatives and Serbian parallel structures a day before the Kosovo Government's decision came into effect. As urged by the U.S. Ambassador in Kosovo, the Government of Kosovo agreed to delay the implementation of reciprocity for 30 days, while Serbian parallel structures removed the barricades. The Government of Kosovo decided to implement reciprocity measures with Serbia whereby ID cards issued by Serbia would no longer be recognised, and all people arriving in Kosovo with Serbian identification documents would receive entry/exit papers valid for 90 days. The same has been applied to Kosovo citizens visiting Serbia. Moreover, illegal vehicle licence plates with acronyms of Kosovo cities issued by Serbia and used by locals of four northern municipalities with Serbian majority would no longer be recognised, and the vehicles would have to be re-registered with the Republic of Kosovo licence plates. A deal was reached at the end of August 2022, under the facilitation of the EU and U.S. whereby Serbia agreed to abolish entry/exit documents for Kosovo ID holders and Kosovo agreed not to introduce them for Serbian ID holders. However, no agreement has been reached on the vehicle licence plates, while the Government of Kosovo has offered a transitional period of 60 days for re-registration of vehicles with illegal Serbian licence.
Local issues were also raised on two occasions during the reporting period.
- Dozens of people, joined by members of the Municipal Assembly of Podujeva, protestedto demand that the Government of Kosovo resume the rehabilitation of the highway that connects Prishtina with Podujeva. The highway’s rehabilitation, which commenced in 2016, has been prolonged by several governments, while locals have started to call it “The highway of death”, due to car accidents happening frequently.
International Youth Day marked with a protest in Prishtina
- Under the slogan “When will it be good?”, Youth Initiative for Human Rights Kosovo, joined by a group of young people, marked the International Day of Youth with a protest in Prishtina. They placed suitcases in the “Mother Teresa” square, symbolising the departure of young people to the West for a better future. According to the organisers, it is the last moment for the institutions to seriously deal with the challenges of young people and address the reasons why they leave Kosovo. According to the Kosovo Agency of Statistics, the highest unemployment rate remains among 15-24 year-olds.
Ukrainian journalists gathered on the 31st anniversary of Ukraine’s independence.
- Seven Ukrainian journalists, temporarily sheltered in Kosovo, gathered in Prishtina to mark the 31st anniversary of Ukraine's independence. Under the slogans “Stop Russia!”, “Stop Putin!”, “Free our heroes!” and “Save Azov!”, they demanded that Russia immediately end its unprovoked aggression against their country. Kosovo hosts several journalists from Ukraine as part of the programme "Journalists-in-Residence Kosovo". This programme is funded by the Government of Kosovo and covers living costs and salaries for Ukrainian journalists who work remotely. Recently, the Government has decided to extend the residence permits for nine Ukrainian journalists sheltered in Kosovo.
Several actions were staged by activists of the Social Democratic Party (SDP).
- Activists of the SDP gathered in front of the Government’s building to oppose the reciprocal deal between Kosovo and Serbia on ID cards, calling it a “legalisation of the Serbian parallel structures in Kosovo”. SDP claims that the Government of Kosovo has made a “hidden compromise” by also accepting special ID cards issued by Serbia only for Serbs with permanent residence in Kosovo. According to SDP, these ID cards are issued by the Serbian Department of Police for cities in Kosovo and treat Kosovo as an internal part of Serbia.
- Activists of the SDP launched a symbolic action against the Minister of Finance, Hekuran Murati, by throwing flour at him. The SDP stated that the Minister “has declared war” on public sector workers by deciding to reduce the salaries of employees who have joined the strike.
- Activists of the SDP gathered in front of the University Clinical Center of Kosovo and the Ministry of Health, calling upon the Minister, Rifat Latifi, to focus more on addressing practical problems in the healthcare system instead of traveling abroad and participating in scientific conferences. Under the slogan “Wake up Minister”, they demanded the implementation of the promised reforms.
Other smaller protests were also staged in the reporting period.
- Patients with rheumatic diseases protested in front of the Ministry of Health, demanding regular supply of “Etanercept” drugs, which they must take every week. About 70 patients have remained without supplies.
Threats against journalists in three cases
- The Head of the desk of Radio Gorazhdevci, Milic Petrović, was verbally threatened by Momir Bulatović, the son of a civilian official at the local police station. Petrović was threatened after Radio Gorazhdevci reported on a petition against a police officer. The Association of Journalists Kosovo (AJK) condemned the threats and invited law enforcement bodies to treat the case with priority.
- The journalist at Kallxo.com, Arjana Berisha, was threatened by a bus driver of the company “Di Passio Tour” after a video of him using his mobile phone while driving was published on the online portal. The AJK condemned the threats against the journalist and called on competent authorities to take measures against the bus driver.
- Diellza Luzha, journalist at “Newspaper Shneta” online portal was threatened by an ambulance driver of Mitrovica hospital after she had reported on drivers’ misuse of the ambulance for personal purposes. The AJK condemned the threatening language used against the journalist and called on competent authorities to treat the case with priority.
Over 20,000 signatures have been collected in an online petition demanding the amendment of a bylaw that prohibits religious clothing in schools. The organiser of the campaign “Change the Administrative Instruction on the Headscarf” announced that in 48 hours the online petition had received over 20,000 signatures, 45 per cent of which were from women.
Separately, 237 articles containing harsh language, hate speech, and news with exaggerated headlines were identified by Democracy for Development (D4D) during the monitoring of online portals and social networks conducted between April and June 2022. News related to the dialogue for normalisation of relations between Kosovo and Serbia, the reciprocity measures of the Kosovo’s Government with Serbia, as well as the war in Ukraine, dominated online portals and social networks.
Cyber-attacks against several national institutions’ websites were also noted in the reporting period. Kosovo’s Government suffered a series of cyber-attacks coming from abroad, which targeted IP addresses of several national institutions’ websites. The Government announced that no data stored in the State Data Center were compromised by the attack.