Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape but does not specifically address spousal rape. By law rape is punishable by two to 15 years in prison.
EULEX noted that courts often applied more penalties lighter than the legal minimum in rape cases, particularly in cases where the victim was a minor. EULEX found that courts rarely took steps to protect victims and witnesses, nor did they close hearings to the public as required by law. A section of the Office of the Chief State Prosecutor helped to provide access to justice for victims of all crimes, with a special focus on victims of domestic violence, trafficking in persons, child abuse, and rape.
The law treats domestic violence as a civil matter unless the victim suffers bodily harm. Failure to comply with a civil court’s judgment relating to a domestic violence case is a criminal and prosecutable offense, although prosecutions for this offense were rare. According to the Kosovo Women’s Network, more than two-thirds of women had been victims of domestic violence. When victims pressed charges, police domestic violence units conducted investigations and transferred cases to prosecutors, though the rate of prosecution was low. Advocates and court observers asserted that prosecutors and judges favored family unification over victim protection, with protective orders sometimes allowing the perpetrator to remain in the family home while a case was pending. Sentences were frequently lenient, ranging from judicial reprimands to imprisonment of six months to five years.
Kosovo’s judicial system adopted new standard operating procedures and improved priority assignment of prosecutors for domestic violence cases during the year. The law permits individuals who feel threatened to petition for a restraining order, but violation of a restraining order seldom led to criminal charges. Courts rarely gave recidivists enhanced sentences as required by law.
On August 21, the Prizren Municipal Court approved a prosecutor’s appeal in the murder case of Zejnepe Berisha, stabbed to death by her husband, Nebih Berisha, in 2015, and increased his prison sentence from 12 to 17 years. The prosecution appealed the sentence as too lenient following significant media and civil society attention and protests by women’s rights organizations. Zejnepe Berisha’s murder followed a long history of domestic violence marked by at least 16 separate police reports from her prior to her death. Activists criticized the original sentence as too light because the country’s legal framework suggests between 10 years and life in prison as the recommended sentence for the murder of a family member.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare included a unit dedicated to family violence. The government and international donors provided support to seven NGOs to assist children and female victims of domestic violence. There were 10 shelters for victims of domestic violence.
On April 27, the government created an independent committee to verify and recognize the status of survivors of wartime sexual assault. Survivors of wartime sexual violence complained that EULEX prosecutors did not successfully prosecute any cases. The Ministry of Justice led a working group, including EULEX and the SPRK, to prioritize cases, but no action was taken in any case.
Sexual Harassment: In civil proceedings, the law defines sexual harassment. While the criminal code includes the offense of sexual harassment, it does not contain a specific standard or definition. The code stipulates enhanced penalties for sexual harassment against vulnerable victims, including victims of sexual abuse. Varying internal procedures and regulations for reporting sexual harassment hampered implementation of these laws.
According to women’s rights organizations, workplace sexual harassment was common.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/.
Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women as for men. The law requires equal pay for equivalent work. The law stipulates that the partners in marriage and civil unions have equal rights to own and inherit property, but men commonly inherited family property. In rare instances Kosovo Albanian widows, particularly in rural areas, risked losing custody of their children due to a custom requiring children and property to pass to the deceased father’s family while the widow returned to her birth family.
Relatively few women occupied upper-level management positions in business, police, or government.
Gender-biased Sex Selection: According to the Kosovo Agency for Statistics, in 2012, the date of the most recent census, the male-to-female gender ratio at birth was 110.7 to 100. According to UNICEF, the government did not take steps to address the imbalance.
Birth Registration: Children acquire citizenship from their parents or by virtue of birth in the country for children born to parents from certain minority communities whose citizenship was not documented. Those not registered were primarily from the Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptian communities. UNICEF indicated lack of registration could adversely affect access to social assistance, particularly for repatriated children. Children who were not registered were considered stateless.
Child Abuse: In 2015 UNICEF found that 30 percent of children in the country and 40 percent of ethnic Romani, Ashkali, and Egyptian children were victims of abuse (see data.unicef.org/topic/child-protection/violence/).
Early and Forced Marriage: The law allows persons to marry at age 16. Child marriage was rare but continued in certain ethnic communities, including among Roma, Ashkalis, Egyptians, and Gorani. According to a separate MICS report that focused on these communities, approximately 12 percent of children, mostly girls, married before the age of 15.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age of consensual sex is 16. Statutory rape is a criminal offense punishable by five to 20 years in prison. The law prohibits possession, production, and distribution of child pornography. Persons who produce, use, or involve a child in making or producing pornography may receive a prison sentence of one to five years. Distribution, promotion, transmission, offer, or display of child pornography is punishable by six months’ to five years’ imprisonment. Possession or procurement of child pornography is punishable by a fine or imprisonment of up to three years.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
Approximately 50 Jewish persons resided in the country, according to the Jewish Community of Kosovo. In 2016 the Simon Wiesenthal Center in France issued a public letter to the president criticizing the ready availability in the country of anti-Semitic literature, allegedly translated into Albanian and published in Egypt by the Muslim Brotherhood. The Wiesenthal Center stated it had lodged a complaint with the Ministry of Interior. In November 2016 the president announced a decision to prohibit the sale and distribution of anti-Semitic books. As of September no administrative action had been taken to implement the decision.
In July a mayoral candidate in Rahovec/Orahovac stated on social media that Israel will soon be “vanished from the earth” in response to incidents in Jerusalem. After receiving domestic and international criticism, including from the president and from the leader of his own political party, he deleted the post and apologized.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The government did not effectively enforce these provisions, and persons with disabilities suffered discrimination.
According to Handi-Kos, a disability rights organization, health, social assistance, rehabilitation, and assistive devices for persons with disabilities remained insufficient, and physical access to public institutions remained difficult even after the implementation of bylaws on building and administrative support.
The law regulates the commitment of persons to psychiatric or social care facilities and protects their rights within such institutions but has not been implemented. The KRCT described mental health facilities as substandard. The KRCT reported that several persons with mental disabilities were in detention without any legal basis but noted courts were reviewing some cases.
Ethnic minorities, including the Serb, Romani, Ashkali, Egyptian, Turkish, Bosniak, Gorani, Croat, and Montenegrin communities, faced varying levels of institutional and societal discrimination in employment, education, social services, language use, freedom of movement, the right to return to their homes (for displaced persons), and other basic rights.
The prime minister’s Office of Community Affairs noted discrimination in public-sector employment in almost all local and national institutions. Although the law mandates that 10 percent of employees at the local and national levels of government be members of minorities, their representation remained limited and generally confined to lower-level positions. Smaller communities, such as Gorani, Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptians, were particularly underrepresented. There were no legal remedies to address these concerns.
NGOs reported attempts by universities to discriminate in admissions and hiring against persons wearing Muslim religious garb, including hijabs. The law prohibits the wearing of religious symbols in elementary schools, but antidiscrimination statutes protect religious dress at the university level.
Romani, Ashkali, and Egyptian communities experienced pervasive social and economic discrimination. They often lacked access to basic hygiene, medical care, and education and were heavily dependent on humanitarian aid for subsistence.
The law requires equal conditions for all schoolchildren and recognizes minority students’ right to public education in their native languages through secondary school. This law was not enforced, with the country’s Bosniak, Croat, Gorani, Montenegrin, Romani, and Turkish leaders noting that their communities lacked textbooks and other materials.
Access to justice for non-Albanian communities, particularly for Kosovo Serbs and displaced persons, remained a concern. Poor or no translation in proceedings before the courts, a backlog of cases, the nonexecution of decisions, limited numbers of non-Albanian staff, inconsistency between Albanian and Serbian translations of legislation, and the lack of functional judiciary system in northern Kosovo hindered proper delivery of justice. Security incidents against Kosovo Serbs persisted, particularly in the Peje/Pec, Istog/Istok, and Kline/Klina regions. In the first seven months of the year, there were more than 105 incidents involving thefts, break-ins, verbal harassment, and damage to the property of Kosovo Serbs and the Serbian Orthodox Church.
Kosovo Serb representatives continued to call for increasing the number of Kosovo Serbs on the police force, particularly in returnee areas. The number of Kosovo Serbs in the KSF almost doubled during the year, with 58 additions.
On January 10, a hand grenade detonated in front of Hotel Sasa in North Mitrovica/e North, damaging windows and two parked vehicles. The hotel hosted a small number of government branch offices as part of Brussels Dialogue implementation. An investigation was underway.
On January 14, the government denied entry to a special train from Belgrade emblazoned with nationalistic statements and Serb religious imagery, while Kosovo Police deployed special units in northern Kosovo, increasing tensions between Kosovo Serbs and Kosovo Albanians. On January 15, almost 2,000 Kosovo Serbs gathered in Mitrovica/e North to protest government and police actions.
On the evening of February 14, a group of 20 young Kosovo Albanians chanted anti-Serb slogans and sprayed anti-Serb graffiti in a Kosovo Serb-inhabited area of Gjilan/Gnjilane, including on the Serbian Orthodox church and a Serbian-language school’s outer walls. The graffiti included “Kill Serbs,” a swastika symbol, and “UCK–Kosovo Liberation Army.” Anti-Serb graffiti also appeared in an ethnically mixed village in nearby Novo Brdo/Novoberde municipality. Kosovo Police arrested one Kosovo Albanian minor.
On May 29, unknown assailants fired a dozen bullets at a building containing PKS offices in the northern Kosovo municipality of Leposavic/q. No injuries were reported, but the bullets damaged windows and a wall. In July, two Kosovo Serb opposition politicians were victims of vehicle arson in Mitrovica/e North. No injuries were reported, and an investigation was underway.
The language commissioner monitored and reported on the implementation of legislation that conferred equal status to the country’s two official languages, Albanian and Serbian, as well as official languages used at the local level, including Bosnian, Romani, and Turkish. In February the commissioner told the media that local municipal administrations did not fully respect the Law on Use of Languages, citing lack of political will. He also noted the lack of translation into Serbian language within several institutions, including the Ministry of Health and the national power company.
Amendments to administrative rulings permit Bosniaks, Roma, and Turks to have identity documents issued in their own languages, but minority representatives often complained of poor implementation.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The constitution and law prohibit direct or indirect discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, health care, and education. When the motivation for a crime is based on gender, sexual orientation, or perceived affinity of the victim with persons who are targets of such hostility, the law considers motivation to be an aggravating circumstance.
According to human rights NGOs, the LGBTI community faced overt discrimination in employment, housing, determination of statelessness, and access to education and health care. The NGOs said societal pressure persuaded most LGBTI persons to conceal their sexual orientation or gender identity. NGOs noted that police were insensitive to the needs of their community.
On February 15, a prosecutor filed an assault indictment against a defendant accused of attacking an LGBTI person on the basis of sexual preference in July 2016. According to NGOs, as of September LGBTI persons reported no hate crimes during the year, although they emphasized that fears of retribution discouraged reporting.
An Advisory and Coordinating Group consisting of representatives of eight ministries, the Office of Good Governance, and three NGOs cooperated to protect and promote the rights of the LGBTI community, including by developing an National Action Plan. Government officials signaled support for LGBTI rights by sponsoring and attending numerous public events.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
While there were no confirmed reports of official discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS during the year, anecdotal reports of such discrimination persisted.