“For me that was my ‘day of apocalypse’ – the day that felt like the last of my life!”
In armed conflicts the abuse of girls and women is frequently deployed as a “weapon of war”. The perpetrators’ aim is to destroy women’s personalities and rob them of their dignities, thereby achieving the annihilation whole societies. At the time just 16 years old, Vasfije Krasniqi Goodman was forced into such an ordeal during the Kosovo War in 1999. She was brutally raped in succession by two Serbs – one of whom was a police officer. “I repeatedly begged the policeman to kill me”, she says, but her torturers wanted to see her suffer. Sven Lilienström, founder of Faces of Peace, spoke with Vasfije Krasniqi Goodman about the day that changed everything.
Mrs. Krasniqi Goodman, thank you for taking the time for this interview. As a new “face” in the Faces of Peace initiative, we would first like to ask you what “peace” means for you personally?
Vasfije Krasniqi Goodman: To begin with, I want to say thank you for taking the initiative and reaching out. I think peace is directly affected by two factors, those being the inner and outer factors. Even though the outer factors are the ones with the bigger impact here, in terms of starting the process of building peace itself, in my opinion it all starts with inner peace. When an individual achieves peace within, this will ultimately lead to them resonating or transforming that into a general outer peace. This, in turn, is a start to building world peace, a goal that seems too far away at the moment.
You were raped by two Serbs during the Kosovo War in 1999 – one of them was a police officer. What can you tell us about April 14, 1999? How did your life change in the days and weeks that followed?
Vasfije Krasniqi Goodman: For me, and surely many others, that was our “day of apocalypse”, the day that felt like the last of my life. As a 16-year-old child at the time, the fear I felt was terrifying and the lack of information about what was happening around me made it even worse.
I remember when the officer took me by force while threatening me with a firearm.
Sometimes we would watch BBC or CNN, and we would see the horrifying stories of massacres perpetrated by Serbian forces or the killings of infants. But I had little to no information about the rape cases that were occurring. I remember when the officer took me by force while threatening me with a firearm. I was taken into his car and raped, I felt hopeless and devastated. After that he took me to a village, where a big group of people had gathered. They were laughing at me and threatening me, all while I was uncontrollably crying. After that, another older man took me to a nearby house and I was raped there as well. He looked like a civilian but was carrying a handgun.
That day broke my spirit and it felt like my life had lost meaning. For a long time I lived only because I had to!
Me and my family had already gone through a lot, and being raped only added to my emotional and physical wounds. That day broke my spirit and it felt like my life had lost meaning. For a long time I lived only because I had to!
You said in a TV interview two years ago: “I repeatedly begged the policeman to kill me, but he told me my suffering would be greater if he let me live”. Why would you have preferred to have died at the time?
Vasfije Krasniqi Goodman: It is true, after I was taken, I really believed they were going to kill me at first – they were doing that to a lot of people. I was already petrified; I knew bad things were going to happen, and they did.
I just wanted it to end. All the disgusting things they did to me that completely changed and broke my spirit.
Begging to be killed was the best option I could think of. That option was better for me than all of the things and feelings I experienced. I just wanted it to end. All the disgusting things they did to me that completely changed and broke my spirit.
I just did not want to be alive in a reality where all this happened!
My virginity was taken away by a criminal; I just did not want to be alive in a reality where all this happened. But he had already made up his mind and, with truly evil purposefulness, he let me live knowing I would suffer more if I wasn’t dead. And I did!
Girls and women are being subjected to gender-based violence in armed conflicts worldwide. Why is it so important for courageous women, such as yourself, to speak out about it? Can you tell us what happened to the perpetrators?
Vasfije Krasniqi Goodman: Women in Kosovo were subjected to numerous crimes throughout the years. They were tortured by the Serbian forces, not because they were seen as the weaker sex, but because women are directly linked with the continuation of life and its prosperity. The Serbian state apparatus targeted women repeatedly with the goal of affecting the population and causing them to flee the territories permanently.
I have repeatedly fought to bring those criminals to justice, but they still walk free, while I still seek justice.
I believe this strategy is being employed in other parts of the world as well. In some places women are even taken as war prisoners by these terrifying “armies” and used to exercise their animalistic lusts. In my case, I have repeatedly fought to bring those criminals to justice, but they still walk free, while I still seek justice.
While the physical scars heal at some point, the psychological ones linger for a much longer time. How have you processed the events of April 1999 – and are there moments when your past catches up with you?
Vasfije Krasniqi Goodman: My body wounds have healed. I did escape death, but my mind and spirit will never be able to fully rehabilitate, even though I always had support from my family and now from all over the world.
Being raped is something that imprisons you and it continues to hit you more and more every day.
Not a single morning goes by without me waking up and remembering that terrible event which happened to me – and over 20,000 other victims. It is a heavy feeling to carry around and I can feel the tiredness of my soul.
Sometimes it feels that the life I lived was worthless because of it!
Being raped is something that imprisons you and it continues to hit you more and more every day. I can’t possibly imagine a more terrible comparable experience. Sometimes it feels that the life I lived was worthless because of it. Now I have devoted my life to other men and women that have been through similar experiences to me, and me and my team will try as hard as we can to prevent such terrible crimes from ever happening again.
Hashim Thaçi announced his resignation as president of Kosovo in November 2020 following his indictment for war crimes by a Kosovo special court. In your opinion, are war criminals being pursued consistently enough?
Vasfije Krasniqi Goodman: Since the day after being raped, me and my family have been dealing with my case, we put a lot of faith in justice and actively pursued it. I would have never thought that an international organization such as UNMIK would not consider it their responsibility to bring justice for the crimes that happened in Kosovo. They never even looked at our case, or any other cases for that matter. Even during EULEX’s mission in Kosovo later on, when we took my case to court in 2013, UNMIK stated they had lost my files. This resulted in EULEX finding the rapists not guilty, which was devastating for me and my family.
The victims were further disappointed by The Hague, where not a single case was brought to justice. This is absurd!
I just want to say that during the UNMIK-EULEX period in Kosovo, we were not treated justly by these organizations. The victims were further disappointed by “The Hague”, where not a single case was brought to justice. This is absurd. On the other hand, Kosovo has expressed a feeling of determination to bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice.
It is sad to see this happen, while those criminals now hold state positions in Serbia.
We, the victims of the war in Kosovo, will still wait for our justice to come, even though it looks as if it is not coming our way. It is sad to see this happen, while those criminals now hold state positions in Serbia.
Mrs. Krasniqi Goodman, in an interview Dr. Mukwege also criticized international politics and declared violence against women to be something that “shames our common humanity”. What are your expectations of politics?
Vasfije Krasniqi Goodman: In our case the Serbian forces used rape as a “systematic weapon” to achieve their goals in many ways.
How could Europe have allowed another European country to commit such crimes against other defenseless populations?
What they did brings shame to Europe. How could Europe have allowed another European country to commit such crimes against other defenseless populations under its jurisdiction? These crimes provide ample evidence of some countries’ desire to destroy other populations.
I will continue to take steps towards – and advocating for – justice!
I stand here despite their attempts to do so, while never letting myself get filled with hate or allowing my soul to give up because of the suffering. And I will continue to take steps towards – and advocating for – justice. The world needs to take these steps with me and serve proper punishment for these crimes in order to prevent future war rapes.