Brutal killings of women in Western Balkan countries trigger alarm and expose faults in the system

Brutal killings of women in Western Balkan countries trigger alarm and expose faults in the system

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

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

In response, women’s groups in the region have organized protests to draw public attention and demand action. They have set up help lines and shelters for women. But activists blame authorities for not acting more decisively to protect women and counter a culture of impunity.

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

The murder was “so gruesome and so tragic” that it was an “eye-opener,” said Jadranka Milicevic, from the Cure (Girls) group.

In the Western Balkans, most countries have passed laws and regulations to combat violence against women but implementation remains incoherent, activists say.

Bosnia, for example, was among the first countries to ratify the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention on violence against women, but the problem has only grown since then, Milicevic said.

“Violence against women and domestic violence are a global phenomenon. They exist everywhere, but it is the state response to the violence that is the key issue,” explained Vanja Macanovic, from the Autonomous Women’s Center in Serbia. “Unfortunately, what we see here (in the Balkans) is that violence is approved. It is a model of behavior that is not sufficiently condemned in public.”

“We have signed all relevant international declarations, resolutions and conventions but their application is questionable,“ said Milicevic. “Too many people still perceive (domestic) violence as a private issue, a private matter between two people. They do not understand that it is a social problem.”

Observers cite Bosnia’s lenient sentences for violence and killing of women as one of the key problems. A 2022 report by GREVIO, an expert body monitoring the implementation of the Istanbul Convention, said such court practices feed a “sentiment of impunity” that is felt strongly by both the perpetrators and their victims.

Only once was a murderer sentenced to the 40-year maximum in a case where a woman was the victim, Milicevic said. A total of 65 women have been killed in the past 10 years and five have survived attempted murders in the country of 3.3 million people, local data shows.

The situation is similar in Kosovo, another highly patriarchal and male-oriented Balkan society. There, the rape last year of an 11-year-old girl by five assailants triggered street protests demanding safety for women, which led to the resignation of the police chief.

But protesters were out in the streets again later in 2022, angered by two killings in the capital Pristina. A 63-year-old geography teacher was killed by her axe-wielding husband, while a pregnant woman was tracked down outside a hospital by her husband, who killed her while she was waiting to give birth.