My research focuses on the silence that envelops the crime of wartime sexual violence in the postwar era and the advocacy for survivor recognition, by using contemporary Kosovo as a paradigmatic case. During the recent Kosovo conflict (1998–1999) sexual violence perpetrated against Albanian civilians by Serb forces was intended to persecute them as a group (Šainović et al. 2014; Djordjević 2014) and was widespread and systematic (HRW 2000 and 2001; Independent Commission 2000; UNFPA 1999; OSCE 1999), targeting both men and women. Survivors and their advocates (the focus here is on women) initially reported incidents but later refused to speak out, shut down by society and failed by domestic and international judicial mechanisms. Twenty years after the war, they have found a new voice through the vitality of a network of women advocates that has used grass roots mobilization and art activism (Di Lellio, 2016 and 2019) to acknowledge “the presence of the elephant in the room” by making the history of sexual violence during the conflict “part of the public discourse” (Zerubavel 2006), effectively puncturing the public secrecy that enveloped wartime rape and weakening the power game inherent to it (Mookherjee 2006). The balance has now shifted in favour of survivors who are beginning to receive a pension as compensation for their experience of the war and to demand justice for themselves and for all survivors as members of the 2018 Nobel Prize winner Mukwege Foundation. The Kosovo case makes the argument that while in the postwar era survivors of sexual violence have a range of pressing needs, from dealing with trauma to obtaining justice and economic stability, achieving social recognition to overcome shame and the stigma that feeds it is the first step to empowerment.

About the author

Anna Di Lellio is a sociologist and policy analyst, and an expert on nationalism, security and state building in the Balkans.

Her research and publications focus on Kosovo, where she worked with the Organization for the Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK).

She is a co-founder of the Kosovo Oral History Initiative ( In 2015 she produced the installation Thinking of You, by artist Alketa Xhafa-Mripa, dedicated to survivors of wartime sexual violence in Kosovo, and coproduced with Fitim Shala the documentary #MendojPërTy#ThinkingOfYou (The Making Of). She is the author of several journal articles, of the book The Battle of Kosovo. An Albanian Epic (I. B. Tauris 2009) and of the graphic history Dimri i Gjatë i Vitit 1945. Tivari (with Dardan Luta, OHI 2019).

She teaches international relations at The Julien J. Studley School Graduate Programs in International Affairs at The New School and at The International Relations Master Program, New York University.