Dr. Feride Rushiti is the founder and Executive Director of the Kosovo Rehabilitation Center for Torture Victims (KRCT). Through almost two decades of research and advocacy, Dr. Rushiti has secured access to healthcare and justice for civilian victims of Kosovo’s* 1998-1999 war.
Her advocacy led to the recognition of the survivors of wartime sexual violence among other civilian victims of war in 2014 as well as the landmark decision in 2017 by the Cossack government to fund pensions for Kosovo’s victims of wartime sexual violence. Dr. Rushiti, a medical doctor, began treating civilian victims of war during the active conflict in 1999. She was among the first doctors to recognize the need for treatment of psychological trauma for refugees fleeing the violence, particularly for women and minority groups. She pioneered a multi-disciplinary approach to addressing the needs of conflict victims, with an aspiration to build a single organization to provide psycho-social support, legal assistance, medication, treatment, and policy advocacy.
Dr. Rushiti also played a key role in developing Kosovo’s legal framework for the humane treatment of prisoners and other detainees, advocating successfully for the independent monitoring of detention facilities. In March 2018, Dr. Rushiti received the U.S. Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award in recognition of her work with survivors of torture and human rights advocacy. Throughout her career, she has received numerous other prizes in recognition of her human rights work with survivors of wartime sexual violence as well as other marginalized groups.
Dr. Rushiti is an AIPG alumna, having taken part in the Raphael Lemkin Seminar for Genocide Prevention – Mediterranean Basin Edition.
1. Could you tell us more about the Kosovo Rehabilitation Center for Torture Victims (KRCT) and how it was established?
The Kosova Rehabilitation Center for Torture Victims was established in October 1999 in Prishtina after the end of the Kosovo war. The initial mission of the organization was to provide emergency medical and psychosocial services to survivors of wartime torture with a special focus on survivors of wartime sexual violence.
In the early days of KRCT, the Center had regional branches all over Kosovo to make sure the services were accessible to all survivors of wartime trauma. Over the years, based on the needs of the survivors, the Center has expanded its scope to include legal aid, awareness-raising, and advocacy for the survivors of wartime sexual violence, building the ground for the legal recognition of the status of survivors of wartime sexual violence in 2014.
2. As an essential contributor to the recognition of wartime sexual violence within the legal framework in 2014 in Kosovo, what are the Center’s current priorities, and what are its plans for the near future?
Access to justice for survivors of wartime sexual violence is an essential component of dealing with the past for any post-conflict society. A significant portion of KRCT work is dedicated to advocating for justice, but at the same time, we are working diligently to document the crimes of wartime sexual violence. We believe that truth and justice are the foundation of a successful policy of reconciliation and sustainable peacebuilding in the region. We are in the process of a detailed documentation of cases of wartime sexual violence in Kosovo which we hope will serve transitional justice efforts our country is making.
3. In your opinion, which actions, policies, and/or approaches are essential in addressing the needs of victims of mass atrocities? How do these contribute to preventing the recurrence of mass atrocities?
In our two decades of experience advocating for the rights of the survivors of wartime sexual violence as one of the most vulnerable categories of victims of mass atrocities, we have learned that raising awareness about the issue is the first step that opens the way to advocacy for institutional support and social acceptance of the survivors. This is even more important when dealing with crimes that instill shame in the victims. Another very important aspect of our work is the documentation of mass atrocities, specifically wartime rape in the context of our mission. Without the preservation and promotion of the truth, healing is impossible and any hopes of reconciliation remain hollow. The documentation of the truth also serves as a powerful reminder and as an effective strategy for the prevention of atrocity through contributing to the collective memory and education of the state institutions and society.
4. What AIPG initiatives have you participated in? What, if anything, stands out as something new you learned through your involvement in AIPG’s programs that changed the way you approach your work?
I am one of the Raphael Lemkin Seminar for Genocide Prevention alumni, 2021 edition. Going through such a rich and insightful program has expanded my vision of how societies deal successfully with the long-term consequences of atrocity and apply lessons learned from the past to create a peaceful future. A lot of this can and should be utilized in Kosovo’s context and peacebuilding in our region. Another valuable gain from the Raphael Lemkin Seminar for Genocide Prevention was the input from my colleagues who provided valuable feedback which brought a multitude of perspectives and opened my horizons. In addition, having to dig into my experience to contribute to this interactive course has also helped me get a better sense of the lessons I have learned in the past 20 years. Especially since with the pace of the job, I don’t get many opportunities to sit down and write about them.
5. What brought you to work in the field of human rights? Who and/or what inspires you to continue your work in the field?
In 1998 I was a young physician in Tirana, Albania, specializing in gastroenterology. Never would I have imagined there would be a dramatic turn in my life and career when the war broke out and I felt called to help relieve the suffering of refugees fleeing massacres, rape, and destruction in my native Kosovo. It was initially the humanitarian instinct that drew me to become a volunteer in the refugee camps in Kukes where I met many survivors of all sorts of war crimes, but what pierced my heart the most were the cries of the survivors of wartime sexual violence. The more I learned about the extent of the devastation suffered by these women, children, and men, the more I felt it was my duty to create a safe, accepting, and healing space for these terrorized victims of war, who were being revictimized in the peacetime through the stigma and taboo in society. Changing society is a slow and arduous process but we have come a long way in the past 22 years and I will continue to contribute toward a future without atrocity.
6. What are some of the lessons that the rest of the world could learn from your crucial work?
My work at KRCT has been guided by the needs of the survivors and the Do No Harm Principle. I believe that having a close connection to the people impacted by war atrocities is the most ethical and effective way of providing sustainable and effective rehabilitation services, but also keeps us closer to the undiluted truth of what happened, which in turn creates a solid basis for education and informs the advocacy for atrocity prevention in the future.
Truth, Justice, and Dignity for survivors have to remain the cornerstone of any attempt at reconciliation and peacebuilding after conflict. A fair treatment of all victims of war atrocities is an important thing to keep in mind when societies emerge from the destruction of war, because leaving some people behind through stigma and taboo keeps the wounds open and prevents the healing of the trauma. As we have sadly witnessed in Kosovo, this allows for the trauma to spread in the families and the community and to be passed down the generations.
*All references to Kosovo should be understood in full compliance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999).