Brutal murders of women have sparked concern in the Western Balkans


BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — A man in Bosnia murdered his wife and live streamed the murder on Instagram. Despite efforts to raise awareness and reverse the trend, 27 women were killed in gender-based attacks this year in neighboring Serbia. Activists in Kosovo say violence against women there is a "national emergency".

Throughout the Western Balkans, women are often harassed, raped, beaten, and killed by their partners and after repeatedly reporting the violence to authorities. The region is deeply conservative, with a centuries-old tradition of male dominance, but the problem increased following the political, economic and social crises that followed the end of wars and conflicts in the 1990s.

In response, women's groups in the area have organized protests to draw public attention and demand action. They have set up help lines and shelters for women. But activists accuse authorities of not taking more decisive action to protect women and combat the culture of impunity.

The public in Bosnia and the wider region were rudely shaken to reality in August, when a woman was shot in the head by her former partner in the northeastern Bosnian town of Gradacak in a live video on Instagram.

Jadranka Milicevic of the Cure (girls) group said the murder was "so gruesome and so tragic" that it was an "eye-opener".

Activists say that in the Western Balkans, most countries have passed laws and regulations to combat violence against women, but implementation remains inconsistent.

For example, Bosnia was one of the first countries to ratify the Council of Europe's Istanbul Convention on violence against women, but the problem has only grown since then, Milisevic said.

“Violence against women and domestic violence is a global phenomenon. They are present everywhere, but the state response to violence is the main issue,” said Vanja Macanovic from the Autonomous Women's Center in Serbia. “Unfortunately, what we see here (in the Balkans) is that violence has been sanctioned. This is a model of behavior that is not condemned publicly enough.

"We have signed all relevant international declarations, resolutions and conventions but their application is questionable," Miličević said. “Many people still consider (domestic) violence as a private issue, a private matter between two people. “They don’t understand that this is a social problem.”

Observers cite Bosnia's lenient sentences for violence and femicide as one of the major problems. A 2022 report by Gravio, an expert body that monitors the implementation of the Istanbul Convention, said such court practices promote "a sense of impunity", which is felt strongly by both criminals and their victims. Is.

Only once, Milicevic said, was a murderer sentenced to the maximum 40 years in prison in a case where a woman was the victim. Local data shows that a total of 65 women have been murdered in the last 10 years in the country of 33 lakh and five women survived attempted murders.

The situation is similar in another highly patriarchal and male-oriented Balkan society, Kosovo. There, street protests demanding women's safety broke out after the rape of an 11-year-old girl by five assailants last year, leading to the resignation of the police chief.

But later in 2022, angry protesters took to the streets again after two murders in the capital Pristina. A 63-year-old geography teacher was killed by her husband with an axe, while a pregnant woman was found outside a hospital by her husband, who killed her while she waited to give birth.

A total of 66 women have been killed by their partners or husbands since 2000 in Kosovo, a country of 2 million, while only one perpetrator has been sentenced to life imprisonment, official figures show.

Serbian activist Macanovic believes part of the problem is that "institutions are not being held accountable" and there are no consequences for mistakes in handling cases. She said this discourages women from turning to the state for help, especially in smaller communities.

"We do not have a well-structured system of accountability for each professional for wrongful action, or rather, lack of action," he said. If mistakes are made and a woman is later murdered, it is rare for police officers, social services, prosecutors or court officials to be held accountable.

Faced with an increase in violence and killings of women, in 2017 Serbia began to implement a special law to deepen cooperation between agencies, take immediate measures against attackers, and establish local working groups on violence prevention.

Serbian Human and Minority Rights Minister Tomislav Zygmanov promised further efforts at a recent meeting in the capital, Belgrade, marking a global campaign to fight violence against women. Zygmanov called for cooperation with grassroots organizations in preventing violence and monitoring the sentencing process.

“When it comes to building a tolerant society of mutual respect and understanding, we must also partner with civil organizations,” he said.

In Kosovo, the Justice Ministry was sending text messages warning against violence and urging women to report attacks. Top officials there have publicly demanded tougher punishment for criminals and criticized past practices.

Prime Minister Albin Kurti said on Tuesday "United against violence – that's enough!" “We need the entire justice system to prioritize cases of violence against girls and women,” she said at a conference titled “We need the entire justice system to prioritize cases of violence against girls and women.” Kurti cited "cases when criminals are released and the crime is repeated worse than the first time."

Bosnia also passed a law on domestic violence prevention several years ago and authorities have promised to do more. But experts say that in societies that have gone through wars, where economies and institutions have crumbled, and where ethnic, political and social divisions are often promoted rather than countered by authorities, legal changes alone will not be enough. Are.

Vesna Stanojević, who runs a chain of safe houses for women in Serbia, believes the violence continues and will continue. He said, "Sometimes we admit women who have been beaten so badly that they can't walk or move their heads, who have come to the hospital, who are about to give birth, who have There are injuries in the stomach."

“Where did they (the attackers) learn this? “Who are the role models for our children?” He asked. “We should be educating and we (society) are clearly not doing that.”

He said, currently, more than 40 women and children are living in shelters run by his organization. “In my 32 years of work, I have not seen a decline in violence. ...Sometimes it's more, sometimes it's less, but generally it's always there."

At one shelter, a 26-year-old woman said in an interview that she decided to leave her partner when she noticed bruises on her baby son as well. The woman, who did not give her name for security reasons, said her partner repeatedly raped her, beat and strangled her, and kept her and the child locked in his flat for hours.

Upon exiting, the woman was admitted to hospital with chest injuries and lacerations. The person has now been taken into custody. “The last (beating) was really bad,” she said. "I knew that if this happened again, neither I nor the baby would survive."



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