Ninth Assessment of the Situation of Ethnic Minorities in Kosovo
(Period covering September 2001 to April 2002)

Full Report in PDF available at:
http://www.osce.org/kosovo/documents/reports/minorities/min_rep_09_eng.pdf

Passage related to the situation of Kosovo Serbs

Previous OSCE Minority Reports

 

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

This, the ninth OSCE/UNHCR joint assessment on the situation of minorities in Kosovo, is published close to the third anniversary of the arrival in Kosovo of UNMIK and KFOR. During that time we have tracked the evolving situation of minorities, stressing the problems that continue to make the day-to-day life of many members of minority communities in Kosovo extremely precarious. This assessment covers a very important period for Kosovo, marked by the transition which began after the 17 November 2001 elections and the resulting establishment of the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government (PISG), including a Kosovo Assembly comprised of all ethnic groups as well as an Executive branch. The time period covered was also marked by a declining rate of general criminality and violent crime in Kosovo. It is within this lens that much of the forthcoming analysis will be framed.

The eighth joint assessment noted a gradual decrease in serious security incidents, representing a tentative step towards the overall stabilisation of many minority communities (at least in terms of basic physical security) following previously volatile periods characterised by unrelenting ethnically-motivated violence. The positive trend has continued during the period covered by this assessment. We note a gradual improvement in security with the continued decline in the frequency of serious acts of violence against minorities. However, we also note the continued existence of day-to-day intimidation and harassment, as well as the occasional, if now less frequent, occurrence of extremely violent ethnically-motivated attacks sometimes resulting in loss of life. Minorities continue to be vulnerable to attack, especially when moving outside circumscribed residential areas, even as numbers of incidents are on the decline.

We also look again at what remains a key problem for minorities: freedom of movement. The assessment of the period shows that freedom of movement remains the fundamental issue affecting the ability of minorities to live a normal life, and that the exercise of freedom of movement remains highly restricted due to both the objective security situation, as well as perceptions of security. Without freedom of movement, access to many of the essential services, employment and civil structures continues to be extremely difficult and in many cases impossible. The assessment does note an upward trend in mobility of minorities during this period which, while encouraging, should not be seen as synonymous with general freedom of movement, which will only be realised when any minority can travel to any location, including urban centres, without special escort arrangements and without fear of harassment or violence.

In this context we examine access to essential services and institutions, with an emphasis on the most important of these: the judicial system; education, health and social services; and public services as well as employment. Obstacles to the realisation of property rights, as well as the difficulties minorities have in accessing housing reconstruction assistance, are highlighted as key problems hindering stabilisation of minority communities and return of displaced minorities. With the Assembly Election in November 2001 and development of government structures, we also examine participation in political and civil structures as well as inter-ethnic dialogue.

A particular issue that is addressed, within the context of an emerging self-government in Kosovo, is that of the continued existence and entrenchment of parallel structures, which are becoming increasingly detrimental to ensuring access to essential services for minorities and which, in some cases, are perpetuating the isolation of minority communities. Parallel structures notably exist in the judicial system, education and health, particularly for Serbs, with both UNMIK-recognised structures Ombulantas and schools) as well as structures not approved by UNMIK (Serb courts) supported by the Belgrade authorities and often by international NGOs. Whilst perhaps in some cases (particularly in the health and education sectors) some parallel structures were and may continue to be inevitable as an interim measure due to insecurity and restrictions of freedom of movement, these structures ultimately provide an unsustainable second-class service for minorities and inhibit important forms of inter-ethnic interaction.

The use of parallel structures by minorities distracts attention from what should be the main issue, that is, the urgent need to address the causes of the continued inability of many minorities to fairly access the courts, hospitals, schools, centres for social welfare and other public services. With a decrease in levels of insecurity and increasing levels of mobility, it is important that UNMIK and the PISG, in consultation with all communities, begin to examine moving towards integrated structures that accommodate the needs of all communities and offer services on a non-discriminatory basis. Discrimination is pervasive and requires clear laws and effective remedies and sanctions, particularly through the justice system. Special temporary measures for minorities may be needed, and lessons can be learned from the measures that allowed access for minorities to the civil and political structures, particularly in the election to the Assembly.

With the formation of the PISG, we stress that assessing the situation of minorities requires not simply assessing the problems, but also the responsibility of authorities to right these wrongs and to find solutions. Therefore we look at what UNMIK, KFOR and the PISG have done to address security, freedom of movement, access to services and employment, property rights and civil and political structures, including KFOR's actions to reduce static checkpoints.

One welcome development during this period, which should help produce a unified response from the international authorities on the issues described herein, was the formation of the inter-agency Advisory Board on Communities (ABC). In the 8th Minorities Assessment, UNHCR and OSCE recommended that a body should be established to "ensure that the SRSG has access to reliable information on the situation of minority communities, to guide him in the exercise of his executive powers after the establishment of the Assembly of Kosovo."1 The first meeting of the ABC was held in December 2001.2 The ABC is a high-level advisory body whose function is to provide policy guidelines, advice and recommendations to the SRSG on minority stabilisation and integration in Kosovo. The ABC has had a strong start, generating policy directions on priority issues such as minority access to employment and measures required to improve freedom of movement. The ABC has also noted the importance of dialogue with the Kosovo Albanian political leadership in order to obtain a political commitment to minority integration and returns. It is to be hoped that the PISG leadership will place an equal emphasis on minority issues.

This joint assessment provides a more expansive and detailed analysis of the issue of return. Minority return was given increased priority and visibility during the period, with both the first organised returns facilitated by the international community, and the creation of the SRSG's Office of Return and Communities (ORC). Inter-agency efforts to facilitate the small-scale return of displaced minorities through the implementation of multi-sectoral return projects had an important ice-breaking effect. However, the return experiences of 2001 highlighted that facilitating return into an environment where ensuring security necessitates high levels of military protection is not sustainable for larger-scale return. Indeed, although this period witnessed new and unprecedented return initiatives for specific locations, fundamental societal problems (such as lack of inter-ethnic dialogue) and institutional deficiencies (such as lack of implementation of property legislation) continued to be largely neglected. The root causes of insecurity, discrimination and alienation between ethnic groups still remain to be addressed. The fundamental and underlying objective remains to ensure that refugees and IDPs have a free and informed choice about whether or not to return. Creating the option to return for substantial numbers of the displaced will require much more meaningful and broad progress in the main issues addressed in this report, namely: security, freedom of movement, property, essential services, employment, participation in civil and political structures and inter-ethnic dialogue. All actors involved in the return process will need to take particular care to avoid the politicisation of the return issue.

Finally, complementing the analysis of thematic issues covered in the report, we also examine the specific situation of each of the minority communities (including Kosovo Albanians where they are a minority). This analysis continues to show the highly varied experiences of (and within) different ethnic groups, particularly with regard to security and freedom of movement. But the findings also continue to point to common problems which are experienced to greater and lesser extents by all ethnic minorities, whether due to discrimination, inability to use their own languages amongst the majority community, or ongoing vulnerability to violence. The scale of displacement that persists today amongst each of these groups, as well as ongoing departures of minority families from Kosovo, points to the fact that the conditions faced by minorities in Kosovo today are still highly precarious. Only when Kosovo's minorities feel confident in their long-term future and when all of Kosovo's displaced populations are able to exercise the choice to return to their homes, feeling assured of their safety and confident in their ability to access institutions and participate in social, economic and political life in Kosovo on a non-discriminatory basis, will it be possible to say that the situation of minorities in Kosovo is acceptable.

RECOMMENDATIONS

The ninth joint OSCE/UNHCR minorities assessment is written for an increasingly wide audience that includes: international civilian and military authorities; policy makers, legislators and civil servants within the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government (PISG); international agencies and organisations; the human rights community, international NGOs and local civil society organisations; and the donor community. Other members of the audience include governments which host refugees and displaced persons, including the FRY authorities, governments in neighbouring states, as well as Western European states. Our key objective with the following recommendations, linked to the chapters of the forthcoming report, is to assist these actors to formulate strategies and objectives related to improving the situation of minorities and solving the problem of displacement.

This assessment arrives at a time of transition for Kosovo, with ever-increasing authority in many areas of governance devolved to local officials of the PISG at both municipal and central levels. With this authority comes responsibility. All of the following recommendations should be interpreted with a clear understanding by all readers of the fundamental importance of empowering and encouraging the emerging local governance structures to take ownership over the issues with which they have been vested authority and responsibility. Many new initiatives are needed, and these should be undertaken in a partnership between the international community and the Kosovars of all ethnicities themselves, mindful of the imperative to facilitate and to promote local ownership.

Security and freedom of movement

a.. The effect of the removal of static security measures should be closely monitored by the law enforcement authorities and others, and the results discussed with the communities themselves.

b.. KFOR in all areas should openly discuss their security measures with the police, and all communities, and foster a spirit of openness. The removal of checkpoints should be portrayed as an increase in freedom of movement for all communities, which will open up isolated enclaves.

c.. Restrictions by KFOR and other authorities on freedom of movement, particular when these restrictions apply on the basis of ethnicity, should be as limited in scope as possible, explained and removed as quickly as possible.

d.. More co-ordinated planning between KFOR and UNMIK Police/KPS is needed. UNMIK Police and KPS need to strengthen their roles in ensuring public safety in minority areas and in facilitating freedom of movement in order to be able to take over this role from KFOR.

e.. In co-operation with municipal officials and community leaders, law enforcement authorities should produce a plan to address continuous "low-level" harassment of minorities, including stone throwing, incorporating prevention through community action as well as sanctions (e.g. prosecutions and convictions). In the case that harassment is perpetrated by minors, authorities should intervene with community leaders, school officials and parents to modify behaviour.

f.. The police and justice authorities should treat crimes aimed at preventing freedom of movement (such as intimidation and stone throwing at pedestrians and vehicles) as a particular priority.

g.. The KPS should be fully-integrated, with particular emphasis on KPS from particular communities increasingly going into areas from other communities and enhanced use of ethnically integrated and mixed patrols.

h.. A plan of action for normalising movement, using both public and private transport should be developed with the participation of security and law enforcement forces, local communities and municipal officials, transport providers, and entities employing and providing services to minorities. The plan should envisage a progressive reduction in high-profile escorts. However, escorts should not be reduced when this would mean a reduction in freedom of movement.

i.. All minorities with limited freedom of movement, should, as a minimum, have access to regular public transport (as opposed to privately-funded initiatives only), no matter whether the latter is profit-making or not.

j.. Resolution of the licence plate issue is needed by agreement between the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government (PISG), UNMIK and the Belgrade authorities.

Justice

a.. Steps are needed from both UNMIK and the Belgrade authorities to abolish the parallel system of courts. A negotiated absorption of their staff into the UNMIK system is preferable, with a clear statement from the Belgrade authorities that such courts are no longer legitimate and that inhabitants of Kosovo must use the UNMIK courts.

b.. Special measures should be taken by UNMIK to ensure not only that minorities are employed by the court system but that they are able to do so, including special security measures, at least at first, and escorts.

c.. The common practice of having minority cases reviewed only by minority or international judges should be rectified, and likewise, the practice of minority judges only being called for minority cases should be discontinued. In the first place this should be by agreement by the Presidents of the courts. Instead, all sensitive cases involving a judge and a defendant of different ethnicities should be closely monitored by OSCE and others. Any judge of any ethnicity displaying bias or discrimination should be disciplined through the Kosovo Judicial and Prosecutorial Council.

d.. Successful cases of arrest, trial and prosecution for ethnically-motivated crimes should be widely publicised by the Department of Justice, the media and others involved in the justice system.

e.. An office of the Ferizaj/Urosevac court should be opened in Strpce'Shterpce by the Department of Justice.

f.. A public awareness programme targeting minorities to disseminate information on the civil justice system should be designed and implemented by the Department of Justice, with the assistance of any interested organisation.

Education

a.. UNMIK and the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST), in co-operation with KFOR, UNMIK Police and KPS should develop and ensure the funding of a comprehensive plan to improve security and access of minority students throughout Kosovo, including a Kosovo-wide plan for minority school transport.

b.. Similar plans should be developed to improve the physical conditions in schools, and to supply books and school supplies to students at no charge, and to develop in-service training for minority teachers.

c.. UNMIK and the MEST should place priority on the integration of the education system, as a first step resolving the issues that frequently arise regarding the joint jurisdiction of MEST/UNMIK and the FRY Ministry of Education which have a detrimental effect on children's education rights. Standardisation of the curriculum and all administrative practices including those governing employment must be achieved.

d.. UNMIK and the MEST should consult with educational experts who deal with Roma education issues from other European countries in order to (a) develop a specific programme to address remedial education needs, (b) create incentives to encourage, and, as a last resort, require, parents to send their children to secondary school, and (c) to consider how education in the Romani language might be incorporated into the curriculum.

e.. Different integrated school models should be analysed, and the best practices should be more widely used.

Employment

a.. The Ministry of Public Services should aggressively promote policies of affirmative action (not just hiring quotas) in minority hiring practices in the public sector. Further, all currently existing legislation that provides for quotas in hiring should be re-examined to make certain that such quotas are proportionate to the interest which the state seeks to protect, i.e. to provide effective equality in employment of minorities.

b.. The PISG should systematically re-evaluate all hiring practices in the public sector in order to ensure that they are effective both in theory and in practice to ensure equality.

c.. All grievance procedures through which minority candidates may appeal hiring decisions should be evaluated by the Ministry of Public Services, and if they are not functioning effectively, measures must be taken to ensure that they provide an effective legal remedy for anyone who suffers from discriminatory hiring practices.

d.. All civil servants should be trained to be able to identify discriminatory conduct and to implement policies and procedures to eradicate it within their respective offices. Further, administrative directives should be circulated throughout the civil service and mandatory training should be conducted to ensure that all civil servants understand their legal obligation to adhere to international human rights standards, particularly as they relate to equal treatment of members of minority communities.

e.. A comprehensive anti-discrimination law is needed in Kosovo. OSCE's proposal for the enactment of an omnibus anti-discrimination law in Kosovo should be adopted, as such a law would serve to strengthen currently existing law on discrimination by conforming it to international and European anti-discrimination laws and standards. The law is intended to promote uniformity in adjudication, and would provide effective legal remedies for victims of most forms of discrimination, as well as effective, proportionate, and dissuasive sanctions to address violations. This law should be ideally passed by the Assembly.

Health

a.. Multi-ethnic secondary healthcare must be developed by the healthcare authorities, and they must enforce the cardinal rule of the medical profession that doctors must treat any patient regardless of their racial or ethnic origin.

b.. The Ministry should discourage unsustainable parallel systems of healthcare, whilst ensuring that everyone has equal access to health care, regardless of ethnicity.

c.. The Ministry of Health must ensure that information about healthcare and healthcare facilities reaches members of minority communities. The Ministry should conduct an awareness campaign for members of the Roma, Ashkaelia and Egyptian communities.

Social Welfare

a.. The effect of the "re-registration" requirement of the social assistance scheme in practice needs to be closely monitored by the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare. Any practice that is indirectly discriminatory (i.e. that minorities, without freedom of movement, will have more problems complying with) should be abolished. The fundamental duty on the authorities to ensure that every person can live in dignity and has sufficient funds to do so, should be the priority. UNMIK should improve transparency with humanitarian agencies that monitor minority access.

b.. The Centres for Social Welfare should enhance co-ordination and direct collaboration between their employees working in majority areas and those working in minority areas.

Housing

a.. Housing Reconstruction Guidelines should carry legal weight. The Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning (MESP) should draft laws to present to the Kosovo Assembly outlining non-discriminatory allocation criteria, transparent selection processes, and mechanisms providing accountability and appeal.

b.. The ongoing turn-over of responsibility to municipalities should be accompanied by the establishment of an effective interim monitoring mechanism and include accountability to UNMIK and to the MESP of both the Directorates and the MHCs through monthly reporting.

c.. Given the absence of quotas or floors for minority reconstruction in the 2002 Housing Reconstruction Guidelines, donors should ensure that their implementing NGOs meet appropriate targets, which can be best established through participatory consultations, which include Local Community Officers.

d.. NGOs, as MHCs' implementing partners (and therefore agents of the state), should be held accountable by both the MHCs and the Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning for their conduct.

e.. The reconstruction criteria should require a distribution of assistance based on vulnerability that has similar effects for each ethnicity. For example, the reconstruction criteria should require that a figure, say 20% of all houses, minority or otherwise, deemed Category IV and V should be reconstructed. Additional resources should be committed until the proportion of total houses reconstructed is similar in minority and majority communities.

f.. Immediate housing and reconstruction needs in the places of origin of minorities who remain displaced within Kosovo must be addressed, for all cases where reconstruction is the key obstacle to return, including those IDPs who have on their own initiative returned from outside of Kosovo into saturated host-family arrangements.

g.. An adequate funding mechanism responsive to reconstruction needs for spontaneous and organised minority return should be established. Funding responses should take into account the additional costs of return projects associated with crucial balancing projects for neighbouring majority communities.

Property

a.. Property adjudication should be placed at the top of the agenda for financing in the KCB and by donors, with a view to both minority stabilisation and returns. Resources should be allocated to the HPD and HPCC to enable effective (a) deployment of mobile teams to minority areas, (b) awareness raising, (c) claim intake and processing, including HPCC decision-making, and (d) management of property under HPD administration, including the effective protection of vacated property in order to avoid re-occupation or damages.

b.. The HPD should accelerate its efforts to delegate authority to capable municipalities, including identifying and initiating the process of delegation in such municipalities.

c.. An HPD office should be established in Prizren as soon as possible. HPD should establish permanent or temporary satellite offices where necessary.

d.. There should be an increase in minority representation on HPD staff to facilitate minority access.

e.. Every Local Communities Officer (LCO) should be fully aware of the HPD mechanisms.

f.. Work towards a new and functioning cadastre should be made a priority by UNMIK and the PISG. Interim protections must be instituted to protect the property rights that exist at present. Registration fees should be adjusted according to vulnerability, and such initiatives publicised, in order to facilitate the registration of property rights.

g.. Reasonable accommodation should be made by all authorities dealing with property for the unique circumstances of certain minority communities. For example, Roma, Ashkaelia and Egyptians with unrecognised property rights should be provided with assistance as a matter of priority to establish ownership or possession of relevant property. Immediate attention should be paid to various property disputes between these communities and municipalities.

h.. The Assembly and UNMIK must fill in the gaps in the property law, make the law clear, and adapt it to new realities (namely a market economy).

Elections

a.. Special attention should be paid by OSCE to minority participation in the electoral process leading to the Municipal assembly elections due to take place in autumn 2002, including the registration process.3 Information campaigns should identify and reach out to the electorate in Serbia proper, Montenegro and fYROM with more sensitivity to language (including materials in Romani as well as other languages). Special attention should be paid to ensure that Roma, Ashkaelia and Egyptian communities are better informed of the voter registration process and locations of voter registration centres, particularly outside of Kosovo.

b.. The strictly proportional electoral system for Municipal Elections 2002 increases opportunities for minority participation at the local level if small minority political parties get into coalition. This is so as in this system there are no set-aside seats for minorities. OSCE Democratisation Department should make sure that minority political parties are well-informed and trained on electoral law and electoral behaviour. Special emphasis should be put on minority voter registration.

c.. The Central Election Commission (CEC) and the OSCE should ensure a higher level of involvement of non-Serb minority observers in the forthcoming elections.

d.. OSCE should establish outreach teams for the forthcoming Municipal elections, who should dedicate their time and work to the various minority communities on a proportional basis.

e.. Lack of freedom of movement will have a much greater impact in the coming municipal elections than in the Assembly elections, as there are 30 assemblies to elect and minority communities' parties need to be able to move freely to campaign among their electorate. A determined effort must be made by OSCE and others involved in the election to ensure access to those with limited freedom of movement, including equal access to use of media for campaigning.

Participation in civil and political structures

a.. All Municipalities should be required to set up their Community and Mediation Committees as a priority, and report on their functioning.

b.. If, after consideration of the levels of participation of minority communities inside and outside of Kosovo in the autumn 2002 elections, it is found that there is effective under-representation of minorities in Municipal Assemblies, special measures may be needed by the SRSG to ensure minority participation.

Tolerance, reconciliation and inter-ethnic dialogue

a.. A media campaign should publicise positive examples of inter-ethnic co-operation between the Assembly members, as well between leaders at the municipal level, to promote tolerance at all levels of society.

b.. Priority should be given to training and education to legislators within the Assembly as well as those who implement policies as civil servants, to ensure that opportunities and policies promoting reconciliation and inter-ethnic dialogue are central and not marginal features of their work.

c.. Kosovar civil society initiatives should be given more support to promote human rights, inter-ethnic dialogue and tolerance, and to disseminate their messages through media and mass information.

d.. Agencies designing economic development projects, as well as donors funding such projects, should include inter-ethnic co-operation components to foster confidence building through the pursuit of common interests. Initiatives should also be developed and supported to foster inter-ethnic youth activities such as sports events, concerts and other cross-cultural activities that are stimulating and interactive.

e.. The prospect of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission should be openly discussed in the media, led by the PISG and UNMIK.

Return

a.. The central importance of creating conditions for return through inter-ethnic dialogue and confidence building must be recognised. Return planning which foresees substantial return but circumvents the dialogue process should be avoided. Priority must be placed on the quality and sustainability of first returns, not the quantity, in order to effectively lay a solid foundation for a meaningful process.

b.. Security planning should be harmonised with civilian efforts to stabilise inter-ethnic relations through dialogue and confidence-building. More co-operation is needed between the military and civilian agencies to better define a conceptual framework for post-return security planning (including phased reduction of security measures in returnee settlements). Security planning must consider the impact of the perception created by strict security measures among all communities, and must ensure that physical and psychological barriers between minority returnees and the majority community do not become entrenched. Highly militarised return environments that reinforce physical and psychological separation should be avoided.

c.. More equitable attention should be given to Roma, Ashkaelia and Egyptian IDPs and refugees, as well as to the issue of Kosovo Albanians displaced from Serb-majority areas. Displacement of all ethnic groups should be addressed simultaneously, although all actors must recognise that concrete progress for actual return will vary depending on the complexity of regional political/security environments.

d.. The newly-formed structures of the PISG should engage themselves in and support the return process, as mandated by the Constitutional Framework. The international community should ensure that support is given to the PISG to initiate a political dialogue and consensus-building process on the issue of return.

e.. The PISG and the international community, especially UNMIK and donors, should encourage municipalities to constructively engage in the return planning process, by ensuring provision of municipal services to return areas and by exercising positive leadership vis-a-vis inter-community relations. The donor community should consider providing positive incentives for municipalities who support minority integration and return.

f.. Information dissemination of accurate information on return and related issues (individual rights, rule of law, etc.) with Kosovar media and other local opinion makers is needed. Special attention should be paid to monitoring the use of media vis-a-vis minority return to ensure fair and responsible coverage.

Footnotes:

1 From 1999, the Ad Hoc Task Force on Minorities was the only inter-agency forum comprehensively covering minority issues at the Kosovo-wide level. The Task Force was weakened by its ad hoc nature, the tendency towards being an information sharing forum rather than having a defined advisory role, and lack of senior-level participation of UNMIK and other agency structures. The Ad Hoc Task Force was initially chaired by UNHCR, and later was co-chaired by UNHCR and OSCE. The Task Force was discontinued in 2001.

2 The ABC is chaired by the Principal Deputy to the SRSG and the secretariat function is performed by the UNMIK Office of Return and Communities (ORC). It meets on a monthly basis. Its membership includes the Office of the SRSG and heads or deputy heads of the four UNMIK Pillars, KFOR, UNHCR, UNICEF, UNHCHR, WHO, IOM, OCHA, ICRC, and CoE. The international NGO community has observed the meetings through a delegate of the Alliance for Rights and Tolerance (ART).

3 The international community should improve efforts to ensure the implementation of the Copenhagen document, which outlines standards for equality in chances for political entities while campaigning. See document of the Copenhagen Meeting of the Conference on the Human Dimension of the CSCE, Section 7.7, 1990

For further information, please contact:

Leonard Zulu
Protection Unit
UNHCR Mission in Kosovo
Pristina, Kosovo
Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
Tel.: +381 38 501 509
E-mail: yugpr@unhcr.ch

Alexandre Benz
Press officer
Press and Public Information Section
OSCE Mission in Kosovo
Belgrade Street 32,
38000 Pristina
Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
GMT +1
Tel.: +381 38 500 162
Fax: +381 38 500 188
E-mail: press@omik.org

Ninth Assessment of the Situation of Ethnic Minorities in Kosovo
(Period covering September 2001 to April 2002)
Kosovo Serb Situation (p. 56)


Kosovo Serbs

196. Kosovo Serbs constitute a majority in specific municipalities, in Štrpce/Shtërpcë, urban Mitrovicë/Mitrovica north of the Ibar River and in the northern municipalities of Zvecan/Zveçan, Leposavic/Leposaviq and Zubin Potok. In most other areas of Kosovo they are in the minority, living in enclaves or in isolation. Kosovo Serbs remain the primary targets of ethnically motivated violent attacks. As a result, physical security remains the overriding issue of concern for those Kosovo Serbs who live in a minority situation, as it not only affects their lives and fundamental freedoms (such as freedom of movement) but also the enjoyment of a multitude of life sustaining economic and social rights. The precarious environment that still confronts Kosovo Serbs is underlined by incidents such as the 21 October 2001, shooting of a Kosovo Serb man through the window of his house at night, in Devet Jugovica, causing serious injuries; the firing of five rounds from a pistol towards a group of Kosovo Serb children waiting for public transportation in Plemetin/Plemetina village on 30 January 2002; and the arrest of two Kosovo Albanian males in Viti/Vitina municipality on 27 January 2002 for allegedly attempting to kill a Kosovo Serb male while he was walking home.

197. Kosovo Serbs also continue to suffer violations of property rights, which include coercion to sell property, destruction of property and attacks on religious monuments and sites and desecration of cemeteries. On 29 November 2001, in Gjilan/Gnjilane a Kosovo Serb woman was threatened that she would suffer a grenade attack on her store unless she gave up its possession to the perpetrator. Also in Gjilan/Gnjilane, on 11 December 2001, an explosive device was thrown at a house belonging to a Kosovo Serb causing damage to a wall and roof; in the same region on 18 January 2002, a Kosovo Albanian man threatened a Kosovo Serb over a land dispute; in Kamenicë/Kamenica on 3 January 2002, two improvised explosive device attacks were carried out against two different houses and shots were fired at the houses of the victims, the attack caused damage to both houses and a parked motor vehicle on one of the premises. On 9 March 2002, in Novobërdë/Novo Brdo, three individuals robbed a Kosovo Serb farm, severely assaulted the owner and stole his cattle; the 66 year old victim suffered serious injuries and burns, and the forest around his farm was set on fire. In Podujevë/Podujevo on 11 March 2002, in a Kosovo Serb cemetery twelve gravesite head stones were knocked down in an act of desecration. In Štrpce/Shtërpcë on 15 March 2002, Kosovo Albanian perpetrators were arrested on allegations of setting a Kosovo Serb's stable on fire and causing extensive damage to the property. On 7 April 2002, unknown persons set a Kosovo Serbs' house on fire in Rahovec/Orahovac, in what is suspected as arson. On April 22 2002, an abandoned Serb house in Klokot (Viti/Vitina) was leveled by a strong explosion. On 26 April 2002, a hand grenade was thrown at a Kosovo Serb house, causing some damages to the property. On the same day, in Obiliq/Obilic, a Kosovo Serb's barn was set on fire, destroying some hay and tools.

198. Kosovo Serbs suffer harassment, intimidation and humiliation, the most common form of harassment being the recurrent throwing of stones at vehicles transporting Kosovo Serbs. For example: on 9 January 2002, in Kaçanik/Kacanik, a bus in a convoy was pelted with stones breaking a window and causing facial injuries to a Kosovo Serb male passenger; in Lipjan/Lipljan on 5 February 2002, three Kosovo Albanian boys threw stones at a vehicle carrying four Kosovo Serb men causing head injuries to the driver. The prime targets of these incidents are often the elderly and women as demonstrated in September 2001, when reports were received of the harassment of an 81 year old Kosovo Serb woman, a resident of urban Prishtinë/Priština, who regularly had stones thrown at her window, strangers banging her door or shouting a barrage of verbal abuse; as a result, after making several requests to KFOR to provide protection, in sheer exasperation and exhaustion she expressed the desire to leave Kosovo for Serbia proper. In addition, Kosovo Serbs are accosted, insulted, taunted and spat at on the streets as they walk to or from work, school, health centres, shops or other essential public facilities. These ethnically motivated acts demoralise, frustrate and humiliate their victims, and pervasively affect their sense of security whether or not actual physical harm occurs, and engender a reasonable perception that one is under constant threat. This perception in turn further curtails freedom of movement.

199. These factors have contributed significantly to the decision by many Kosovo Serbs to stay in isolation in main urban centres where they constitute a minority, concentrate in enclave like locations, or remain in displacement either as IDPs or refugees. Those few who have returned mainly as a result of difficult living conditions in exile are those who are from rural areas, while IDPs displaced from urban centres have had no opportunities to return. Some IDPs have returned into displacement into the enclave like locations in central and northern Kosovo.

200. Notwithstanding the above, significant advances in the situation of Kosovo Serb in terms of mobility and accessing services have been noted during the current reporting period. The advances are also attributable to the fact that, like other minorities, Kosovo Serbs after almost three years of living in difficult conditions are taking bold measures to break their isolation, albeit at some personal risk. The determination to ameliorate the effects of the situation has increased within the Kosovo Serb population, with variations according to local risk levels and personal perception of risk. To illustrate, an increasing number of Kosovo Serbs in the Prishtinë/Priština region, during the reporting period, have started to drive to nearby towns without KFOR escort which would have been unimaginable previously. This change in perception can arguably be attributed to the growing number of Kosovo Serbs being prepared to run the gauntlet than continue to put up with the constant harassment and intimidation by some elements in the majority population. One example is the reaction of some members of the Kosovo Serb community in Obiliq/Obilic town who, following the killing of a Serb woman near the railway station on 22 February 2002, resolutely continued to walk along the same path where the woman was shot and killed. Similarly, Kosovo Serbs have started to visit local shops and the municipality building in Obiliq/Obilic town and Fushë Kosovë/Kosovo Polje to access services without KFOR escort.

201. New security measures (or changes to existing measures) put in place by KFOR have in some areas also indirectly influenced trends in mobility of Kosovo Serbs. In some locations, the dismantling of ubiquitous static checkpoints in favour of more mobile area security measures134 led to increased mobility of minorities (due to reduction of barriers), while in other locations, mobility was reduced, either due to the fact that in some locations these measures provoked heightened perception of risk amongst the minority communities, or due to more objective reasons such as the rise of stone-throwing in certain areas concurrent with the removal of static security. On the whole, however, the trend was towards increased mobility. For example, in Gjilan/Gnjilane town and the Viti/Vitina area, Kosovo Serbs enjoyed incremental increases in mobility concurrent with specific efforts on the part of KFOR to increase area security. Thus, Kosovo Serbs are increasingly seen walking the streets, accessing some shops and public services, and driving motor vehicles with former local Yugoslav registration plates on selected roads. Increased mobility in Gjilan/Gnjilane has been positively influenced by the facilitation of transport services that bring Kosovo Serbs from surrounding areas into the town for the market day three times a week and the organised shopping trip from Štrpce/Shtërpcë. The stimulated growth of inter-ethnic commercial activity is undoubtedly another important contributing factor. Yet even in areas which have experienced relatively greater improvements, such as in the Gjilan/Gnjilane region, prolonged periods of reduced violence can still be interrupted. For example, on 26 April 2002, a hand grenade was thrown at the house of an elderly Serb woman in the centre of Viti/Vitina town.

202. Despite some advances, which tend to be most significant in certain regions (namely Gjilan/Gnjilane), freedom of movement still remains highly limited, and contingent upon special escort and/or collective transport arrangements, for most Serbs in Kosovo and this impedes full access to social and economic rights, contributing to the high levels of unemployment and dependence on humanitarian assistance. For example, in 134 KFOR's strategy is discussed at length in the chapter on security and response of authorities, paragraph 14 and afterwards. Mushnikovo/Mushnikovë, Prizren region, Kosovo Serbs only have free movement inside their village. In urban areas, those very few Kosovo Serbs who remain continue to live in highly precarious situations, and individuals in ethnically mixed families continue to maintain a very low profile. In general terms Kosovo Serbs cannot independently move or speak their language without risk. In light of the harassment and other acts of intolerance, the depth of the problem is perhaps illustrated when it is considered a measure of progress when a Kosovo Serb visits a local shop and manages to safely purchase goods.

203. The situation for Kosovo Serbs, with limited advances in security, has thus become less uniform and more difficult to generalise, but the fundamental causes of insecurity outlined in previous reports remain unresolved. Therefore, the increase in mobility and cautious access to facilities providing essential services should not be taken as an indication of a substantial improvement in the enjoyment of fundamental human rights and freedoms for the Kosovo Serbs, and in general of minorities.

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