AIM: start

TUE, 13 NOV 2001 00:13:39 GMT

Minority Rights in Kosovo - the Lowest in Europe

AIM Pristina, October 26, 2001

It seems that for some time to come Kosovo will remain a stage of a continuous play in which the protagonists remain the same, but the roles change. At a certain period some of them were the rulers and others the victims, whereas in the next period they had reverse roles. Two and a half years after the end of war in Kosovo the Albanians are no longer victims, although their names are on the longest lists of war crimes victims. Their place before the international community was taken by their "yesterday's rulers". The Serbian community (statistical data on their number are never precise because they either do not exist or are falsified in most cases) still lives isolated in enclaves surrounded by barbed wire and strong KFOR and UN police forces. Their rights and freedoms figure prominently in reports, analyses and discussions of both the international factors and the local ones in which other minority communities (Turkish, Roma, Muslim, etc.) are forgotten, pushed to the sideline or addressed offhandedly.

According to the latest reports of the OSCE and High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the status of minority communities is improving rather slowly. With the upcoming general elections in Kosovo, after which provisional self-government structures will be established, the eighth report of these two organisations submitted since 1999 warned that democratic developments might be jeopardised unless problems of minority communities were not respected and resolved. "Intolerance is still present in the Kosovo society, which is unacceptable", said Head of the OSCE, Ambassador Daan Everts stating that "everyone in Kosovo who is truly committed to the future free of all past injustices, should seek to put an end to this intolerance". The international officials state that security and lack of the freedom of movement remain a major concern for minority members. The number of violent incidents has dropped in the last six months in Kosovo, but the situation remains precarious. The police and the judicial system are still slow in the performance of their duties, but certain progress towards a safer environment for all citizens has been made.

The head of UNHCR for Kosovo, Lennart Kotslainen said that the lack of the freedom of movement is affecting all spheres of life, starting from education, health to public services. "For some communities this is becoming a fact of life and when people start thinking that that is normal and do not even attempt to cross these "border lines" that is a reason for deep concern. The only way some improvement can be made is to work on providing everyone in Kosovo with a possibility to enjoy his fundamental rights", said the UNHCR Head several days ago for the press. The basic characteristic of the last UNHCR and OSCE reports i.e. their interpretation by Heads of these two organisations was a hot-cold approach. One said that the "situation is very difficult", whereas the other was of the opinion that "significant progress has been achieved in the establishment of a dialogue and inter-ethnic activities" and that, according to Ambassador Everts, first steps towards the normalisation of the situation have been made.

On the other hand, his colleague from the UNHCR, Kotslainen welcomed the return of some refugees-members of the Kosovo minority communities, but also stated that "members of minority communities are still moving out because of constant discrimination, isolation and violence that have penetrated all spheres of their life". Both organisations have recommended a more active approach in improving security, overcoming discrimination, encouraging dialogue and developing confidence-building measures.

Officials of the Committee for the Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms stationed in Pristina have concluded that the state of human rights and freedoms in Kosovo is, generally speaking, unsatisfactory. The President of this Committee, Pajazit Nushi said that compared to the previous year the total number of crimes has remained unchanged. The only difference is that the number of inter-ethnic crimes in Kosovo has somewhat declined. In the course of 2000, the Committee has registered 99 cases of murders of members of minority communities, whereas in the first nine months of 2001 only 26 such cases have been registered, i.e. in contrast to 47 attempted murders registered a year ago, this year only 27 such cases have been reported.

Members of numerous international organisations, as well as local ones agree that the "the solution to the problem of the divided town of Mitrovica and northern Kosovo in general, is a key for the improvement of inter-ethnic relations in other parts of Kosovo". However, Mr.Nushi said that it's not "the only key". According to him, similar factor would be the removal of Serbian enclaves and direct communication between all citizens of Kosovo. However, the opening of enclaves still seems very far away. The international officials are demanding of Albanians to help the protection and respect of minority communities and, at the same time, have adopted decrees on their protection. Some time ago, UN Chief in Kosovo, Hans Haekkerup signed a decree on the prohibition of property sales between Albanians and Serbs (in mixed neighbourhoods). The upcoming of general elections and the intention of Serbs to join these elections opened many other issues that have been "untouchable" until now. UNMIK is considering a possibility of creating special Kosovo Protection Troop units, initiating serious talks on the start of University classes in the Serbian language, whereas Nebojsa Covic, representative of the Belgrade Government has become a regular "guest" here. Also, a 25-page document on UNMIK's strategy for the improvement of the status of the Serbian community has been prepared.

Nevertheless, no one can say whether these attempts will be fruitful. Albanians have harshly reacted to some UNMIK's decisions in whose adoption they were not involved even indirectly, assessing that parallel systems are being created which only deepens the divisions. They claim that they have been "stripped of all forms of power and that they could not do more for the protection of the Serbian community, as well as that open appeals against violence were not of much help".

On the other hand, some analysts claim that international officials and Albanian representatives have failed in their approach and proved incapable of "offering viable alternatives that could help the Serbian community join the political process", but also that a key factor is still "extremely powerful influence of Belgrade on the Kosovo Serbs". According to them, they are a bargaining chip and have been constantly "sacrificed for the purposes of the Belgrade regime, no matter who was in power there".

However, judging by such abuses, justifications or attempts to analyse the reasons for such status of the Serbian and other minority communities in Kosovo, this problem will continue to have a key position in reports of international organisations. It seems that they will continue to be victims of both their compatriots in the official Belgrade (for which they will remain just a "good resource") and the international community and local authorities, which are now incapable of doing anything radical for the resolution of this problem. In any case, linking political stands with the human rights issue in any community cannot hide the fact that Kosovo, just as Kotslainen said, is the area where minority rights are most endangered in Europe.

Besnik BALA