On the International Human Rights Day, we sat down with the Human Rights Advisor of the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX), Valentina Vitali, who gave us a different perspective on human rights and the Mission’s work.
A passionate Human Rights advocate, Valentina was born and raised in Rome, Italy, and she finished her studies in Political Sciences with a major in International and EU Affairs at the LUISS University in Rome. Later, while working abroad, she also obtained a B.A in law.
She always knew that her life path would involve exploring the world, while, at the same time, trying to have a positive impact on people’s lives: a career path in human rights seemed only natural to her.
“The concept of human rights is very broad and complex as it entails obligations to respect, protect and fulfill civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights envisaged under international law by treaties, and various other instruments,” explains Valentina.
As the biggest Common Security and Defence Policy Mission of the European Union, EULEX integrates human rights in its daily work and strategies: “We are committed to integrating human rights in everything we do. This is called ‘human rights’ mainstreaming’. It all starts with acknowledging that human rights belong to everyone, everywhere at all times and that they are not just nice principles on a piece of paper, but they actually entail, on one side, concrete rights for individuals and, on the other, obligations for the institutions,” says Valentina.
The starting point of EULEX’s work consists in identifying what human rights are related to the different parts of its mandate, what entitlements people in Kosovo have, and what are the corresponding obligations of the relevant institutions.
“Once it is clear what rights are at stake, we need to understand what the relevant institutions are supposed to do in order to realize them in practice, how can we, as a Mission with a specific mandate, contribute to their realization and what does this reflect on the life of the people affected,” points out Valentina, giving an example: “An important part of our mandate is the work done by EULEX experts, together with our local counterparts at the Institute of Forensic Medicine, to determine the fate of missing persons. In this case, we talk about the right of family members to know what happened to their loved ones and the fulfillment of this right by all families is our goal.”
Human rights impact every aspect of our lives As Valentina puts it: “Every single moment of our life is about enjoying or not enjoying our rights. If institutions are responsible for making these rights real, it is important that people are aware of their rights and stand up when they are not respected. ”
Implementing human rights in practice can be a challenge. There may be perfect laws in theory but, according to Valentina, sometimes the feedback that comes from the so-called rights holders is different, because what they experience is actually a violation of their rights, or their partial fulfillment.
Rights and obligations ca be identified by using the different human rights instruments, such as the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights .
“We can use these tools to assess to what extent specific rights are realized in Kosovo,” Valentina explains, adding that “the Kosovo legal framework is very strong because many of these instruments are part of Kosovo’s Constitution. This means that the rights they envisage must be guaranteed by all institutions.”
EULEX is supporting Kosovo institutions in fulfilling their obligations to protect, respect and fulfil human rights through what we call a robust monitoring of the whole justice chain, resulting in findings and recommendations that are included in public reports, like the 2022 Justice Monitoring Report.
“First, we try to make a diagnosis of what the problem is and then we develop tailored recommendations for the respective responsible institutions, so that the gap identified between human rights standards and the reality experienced by individuals can be filled in the most effective way,” explains Valentina, adding that: “A case can be brought to our attention and by checking how similar cases are dealt with in the system, we are able to perhaps identify a pattern and therefore, a systemic problem.”
“It is important to highlight that we try to identify where the fault lies, not to point a finger at someone, but to find a solution to a problem, so that the authorities in Kosovo are able to better realize the rights of everyone within their jurisdiction,” points out Valentina.
She also gave the example of EULEX’s monitoring of how cases of sexual violence are handled: “We have observed that very often there is more than one failure in the system: if you don’t collect proper evidence at a certain stage in a case of sexual violence, for instance, this will affect the effectiveness of the entire prosecution process and maybe the victim will never see justice,” Valentina explains. These observations have brought the Mission to design a campaign to raise awareness on the importance of preserving biological evidence in case of sexual violence, and to share its practical recommendations through the special report “Assessment of the Handling of Rape Cases by the Justice System in Kosovo”.
Today’s generations start learning about human rights at a very young age, and this significantly strengthens their human rights literacy and positively affects their mindset. “As a Rule of Law Mission, we reinforce human rights literacy also by strengthening and fostering awareness about rights and obligations and by helping to create a debate about what can be done to improve ultimately the life of people in Kosovo because that’s our objective. We use every public opportunity, every speech we give or our social media channels to communicate about human rights. Being transparent and open is the way to promote this literacy,” says Valentina.
Valentina proudly states that in this field she found empowerment as a professional and a human being. She enjoys spending as much quality time as possible with her husband, two children and three dogs, especially in long hikes in the mountains and nature of Kosovo. Culture and art life such as theater, exhibitions, and good films are additional passions that she enjoys during her free time.
We leave Valentina with one last but difficult question: Are we doing enough?
“We should never say we are doing enough. We should always try to do more and better, and to do better we need to be open and take into consideration the concerns and the views of the people whose rights we are dealing with, of the civil society and of our counterparts in the institutions. ” Valentina concludes.