EULEX Human Rights Advisor participates in a discussion on the book: “Hijacked Childhoods - Accounts of Children’s Wartime Experience”

06 July 2023

On 06 July, the Missing Persons Resource Center in Kosovo and forum ZFD organized a discussion in Štrpce/Shtërpce, which focused on the book “Hijacked Childhoods - Accounts of Children’s Wartime Experience”, narrated by 10 parents and family members of children who were killed or went missing in the last conflict in Kosovo, and by two children who grew up without parents due to this conflict.

EULEX’s Human Rights Advisor, Valentina Vitali, spoke at the event, which brought together family members of missing persons and members of the local community, highlighting her personal impressions after reading this book: “As a parent and as a daughter, but also simply as a human being, I felt very close to all the stories and I was submerged by sadness, but also -to be honest- by rage and anger towards the perpetrators of this senseless and merciless violence. What also really struck me is the generosity with which the different protagonists of this book shared their stories and the story of their children and parents with all of us. This created me a sense of gratitude towards them for opening up and sharing their memories with all of us.”

“Reading these stories definitely made me think of the responsibility that we, especially international staff of missions, have towards the local population and all the peoples of Kosovo,” said Vitali adding that from the beginning of its mandate in 2008 to date, EULEX has been supporting the Kosovo institutions in searching and identifying missing persons.

“Since the beginning of EULEX’s mandate, 27 children were identified, including 24 Albanians and three Serbs. The age of these identified children ranges from 0 to 18 years, with an average of 12 years,” explained Vitali, adding that according to the statistics of the International Committee of the Red Cross, there are still 131 children missing.

Asked about the international conventions that are in place to deal with children and conflict, and the protection of children’s rights, Vitali stated that the broadest instrument on children’s rights is the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child: “This Convention has achieved almost universal ratification, and it insisted that armed groups should not use children under 18 in any circumstances, calling on states to criminalize such practices.”  

Vitali highlighted that the international community needs to work more on the prevention of conflicts and on the early detection of their sings. She emphasized that criminal justice is only one of the ways that societies can deal with their past: “Greater emphasis has been placed on truth-seeking initiatives, documentation of facts, memorialization, raising awareness among the youth. The civil society organizations in Kosovo have played a very important role in this regard. This book is a great example, and other great examples are the work of the Missing Persons Recourse Centre, the Humanitarian Law Centre Kosovo (HLC) Memory Book,  the exhibition of the HLC with objects of children.”

After the discussion, family members of missing persons who were present at the event expressed their pain of loss, as well as the need to find out the truth about their loved ones.