Authorities in Kosovo must ensure access to justice and show practical support to minorities
Following a visit to Kosovo 13-18 November, a delegation of Helsinki Committees calls on authorities there to improve the rule of law and the fairness and efficiency of the justice systems for all, and to extend a hand to its minorities and demonstrate in practical terms that the local and central government takes care of the needs of its citizens. The recent events in the North of Kosovo, where severe unrest and violence has marked the KFOR removal of barricades, demonstrates the need for Prishtina and Belgrade to seriously engage to avoid further escalation in conflict levels and inter-ethnic tension.
Oslo, Belgrade, Tirana and Sarajevo, 25 November 2011. Representatives of the Helsinki Committees for Human Rights in Norway, Serbia and Albania met with authorities, politicians, civil society organizations, journalists and others in Priština/Prishtinë, Mitrovica/Mitrovicë, Gračanica/Graçanicë, Orahovac/Rahovec, Velika Hoča/Hoça e Madhe and Staro Gradsko/Grackë.
The situation in Mitrovica and the Northern part of Kosovo that is inhabited by a Serb majority and that is beyond the effective control of the Kosovo government has been one of heightened tension since the end of July. The delegation drove through the three northern municipalities and witnessed the organized guards found at the road blocks, some of them in a position to monitor traffic across the Ibar river between Mitrovica’s Southern Albanian-dominated and Northern Serb-dominated parts.
The delegation expresses great concern about the climate of fear that appears to reign in the Northern part. The many credible reports of violence, threats of violence or loss of occupation by radicals against individuals who interact with Kosovo authorities or otherwise appear in breach of the hard-line nationalist cause, are extremely concerning. These violations of freedom of expression are also troubling in a political context. For good solutions to be found in the interest of all the population, everyone must be able to express their opinions about their interests and everyday needs. Most of our sources as well as other reports pointed to protection of criminal interests and extreme nationalism as primary explanations for the mobilization and violence seen in the North of late. There are also credible reports that extreme nationalists that are not from the area are present and taking part in inducing conflict.
According to the delegation, it is also of primary importance that in Prishtina, Belgrade and by international organizations, human rights are brought to the foreground and that local voices are heard to a greater degree when seeking solutions to the present aggravated conflict situation in the ongoing Belgrade-Prishtina dialogue and elsewhere.
The delegation took care to follow up on concerns expressed by Helsinki Committees in the past about the situation of minorities in Kosovo. The concern most often expressed by individuals from minority communities was concrete delivery on infrastructure, investment and employment in minority areas. Clearly, economic hardship is a problem also for the majority community, but minorities do complain about particular problems such as access to markets and local budget allotments, which are both concerns which could be addressed in the shorter term. Roma, Ashkaeli and Egyptian communities are the most disadvantaged and must be singled out for special and targeted efforts concerning employment, education, participation and investments.
Kosovo should be praised for the creation of new municipalities that have induced political participation of the Serb minority and increased their say in local issues. On the other hand there are shortcomings in the implementation of legislation enacted with the purpose to take care of the special needs of minorities such as the law on languages. The upcoming law on Public Broadcasting must provide for broadcasting in minority languages in accordance with the Constitution of Kosovo.
The delegation insists that the taboos hindering a true opening of a transitional justice agenda must be opened. There is very little space to discuss crimes committed by the KLA and others against Serbs, RAE and other individuals over the last 12-13 years. Addressing and processing past crimes committed by either side of past conflicts is of primary importance as a basis of future reconciliation and peaceful co-existence. The shortcomings in the rule of law, especially the inefficiency and huge backlog of the judiciary must be addressed generally, and especially in this regard. Access to justice must be improved for all communities as a matter of high priority. For minorities, ineffective courts and shortcomings in law enforcement are particularly problematic when it comes to addressing occupations of apartments and land grabs, as these groups may have lesser access to official and nonofficial protection of their legal interests in such situations.
The delegation took positive note of the significant improvement of the freedom of movement of security and non-Albanian citizen in many parts of Kosovo compared to just a few years ago, but noted with concern that the increased tension in the North also had some repercussions for minorities living south of Ibar. Quite a number of the Kosovo Serbs interviewed said they were more careful in visiting areas dominated by Kosovo Albanians and with interacting with society at large, but they did not refer to concrete recent events as a basis for this fear, but of course the fear in itself is worrying as the key to the long term survival of Serb communities lies in their economic integration in society at large. As a successful integration in the South could provide a positive model for Serbs in the North, such a process is of great importance.
The delegation met with several inspiring individuals and organizations that are making considerable efforts. However, there is a concern that overall civil society and is weak and that there is a lack of strong human rights watchdogs. The fact that official oversight mechanisms such as the Office of the Ombudsperson have been weakened by authorities over the last years, only adds to this concern.
This report is for wide distribution. The delegation is grateful to the many individuals and organizations that took the time and effort to engage with us. Of course the opinions and observations expressed here are our own and we alone are responsible for any error or omission in this summary report. The persons and organizations that we met are however particularly invited to comment back to us on the present summary report and are otherwise called on to take on their share of responsibility in helping the implementation of the solutions proposed and dealing with the problems identified.
For additional information, contact
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Ole Benny Lilleås, Senior Advisor, +47 – 415 06 236, firstname.lastname@example.org
Izabela Kisic, Executive Director + 381- 63 249 321
Vjollca Mecaj, Executive Director + 355 4 223 3671
Members of the delegation
Bjørn ENGESLAND, Secretary-General, Norwegian Helsinki Committee
Izabela KISIC, Executive Director, Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia
Vjollca MECAJ, Executive Director, Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Albania
Klejda NGJALA, Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Albania
Srdjan DIZDAREVIC, President, Human Rights House of Sarajevo
Mina SKOUEN, Norwegian Helsinki Committee
Enver DJULIMAN, Norwegian Helsinki Committee
Ole B LILLEÅS, Norwegian Helsinki Committee